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Unions Finally Come Clean

By ABC Empire State Chapter President Brian Sampson

In a recent article published by Biznow about declining union membership numbers in construction, the author stated construction unions have a fork in the road ahead of them, and they're correct. However, they misidentified what the options are. It's the politicians, not the building trades, that have a decision to make:

  1. They can continue their tradition of shady backroom deals for their union campaign donors, who represent very few construction workers in New York; or
  2. They can accept the fact that most construction workers in the state are not part of a union and start to follow New York State's constitution regarding prevailing wage.

Article 8 of the New York State Labor Law, commonly known as New York State's prevailing wages statutes, requires an entity to "employ at least thirty per centum of workers, laborers or mechanics in the same trade or occupation in the locality where the work is being performed" to be able to negotiate prevailing wage rates in a locality. Seems straightforward and easy to enforce. If they enforced the law, our prevailing wages and benefits would be very different and public construction would cost so much less. If only the Department would enforce the law we’d have way better roads, bridges, sewers, schools, community centers and so much more.

The Empire Center's "Prevailing Waste" report found that New York's prevailing wage process costs taxpayers billions of dollars yearly on public projects, concluding that prevailing wages cause construction costs to increase by 13 to 25 percent, depending on the region and trade. These skyrocketed costs, caused by how New York calculates the prevailing wage, means projects either get scaled down or don't get completed at all. If the Department of Labor followed the laws correctly, the prevailing wage would be more realistic and reflect a true prevailing wage and reduce the negative impact this inflated wage has had on public construction in our state.

Sadly, the Department of Labor has never been forthright about the actual number of construction workers that are union vs. non-union. We can’t get actual data we can use to push the Department to do the right thing. Luckily, thanks to Tom Kriger, a research director for North America's Building Trades Unions, we now know the truth. He was quoted in the Biznow article freely admitting that union members are 18% of the overall craft workforce according to his preferred numbers. Hallelujah! Thank you Tom. We’re going to go with your numbers.

So, by his own admission, New York construction unions don't hit the 30% threshold required for negotiating prevailing wages. This means that every time the Department of Labor allows them to set the prevailing wage, they violate New York State's constitution. Who benefits from this blatant lawbreaking? It's easy to see. The Union business agents and, ultimately, the elected officials who cash their checks.

Non-Union-Workforce-map-2023 FINAL

It's disappointing to see Albany continue to give their union buddies massive handouts while at the same time the vast majority of the construction workforce sits sidelined. All this happens while our infrastructure deteriorates and the housing crisis goes unaddressed. We need our elected officials to stop playing favorites and force the Department of Labor to follow the law.

Again, you don’t need to take my word for it. Mr. Kriger, a bona fide member of the Building Trades, admitted the trades don’t have 30% of the labor force required to negotiate the prevailing wages and benefits. This should be wake up call for the Legislature. Fix what’s broken before you submit to giving their donors more work. Not only can’t 18% of the workforce negotiate prevailing wage. But that same 18% can't rebuild 100% of the state, no matter how much Albany might think it does. A square peg doesn't fit in a round hole.