What’s Pushing Prevailing Wage Into The ‘Big Ugly’

From City & State 
By: Zach Williams

Supporters of a bill that would require higher wages at state-funded projects are making a final push to get the proposal through the Legislature before the end of this year’s legislative session.

A June 11 rally outside the Capitol highlighted support among organized labor, elected officials and Gov. Andrew Cuomo for the proposal, which would require more recipients of state financial support to pay workers a prevailing wage.

Some Democrats are holding out on supporting the bill because they worry that it would hinder the construction of new affordable housing. However, if lawmakers prioritize renewing the state rent laws before they expire on June 15, that leaves little time for them to reach a deal on the prevailing wage, making it more likely that the proposal will be included alongside other issues like climate change and MWBE in a “Big Ugly” – a batch of bills that lawmakers would aim to pass before they adjourn for the year on June 19.

“There’s conversations going on at various levels to find a way forward so we have a measure that will pass by the end of session,” said Assemblyman Harry Bronson, sponsor of the legislation in the Assembly. “My preference is to do it outside a large three-way agreement – only because in doing so we can get a better policy statement for the whole state, but I’m also a realist.” The state constitution mandates that workers on “public works” receive a prevailing wage, which is the rate of compensation that a sample of workers within a specific trade receive within a locality, according to the state Department of Labor.

The bill would expand the definition of “public works” to include virtually anything that receives some form of state financial support, whether it is grants or subsidies. Opponents of the bill have said that it would drastically increase the costs of construction projects and deter development of affordable housing, undermining a top priority for many Democratic lawmakers. Similar concerns have also been raised about how expanding the use of the prevailing wage would affect state renewable energy projects where the “cost drivers are unique,” Bronson said.

Lawmakers aim to resolve these concerns by allowing exemptions to the proposed prevailing wage rules based on either the size and location of a project, or the types of financial assistance it receives from the state. The Wall Street Journal reported on June 6 that $1 million was a possible threshold below which projects in New York City would not be subject to the new wage rules. Lawmakers have used similar approaches when adopting minimum wage rules for different areas of the state, which depended on the size of a company. Lawmakers could also decide to make certain types of grants or subsidies exempt from prevailing wage rules. A commission, the Journal reported, could be used to determine what types of support from industrial development agencies would require the prevailing wage.

While the bill would apply to projects built with both union and non-union labor, critics have also alleged that more needs to be done to ensure that public dollars promote diversity within organized labor. An analysis by the Fiscal Policy Institute states that about 55 percent of blue-collar union members in New York City are minorities, compared to about 36 percent 25 years ago. Bronson said the issue of ethnic diversity in construction would be better address through MWBE legislation that lawmakers hope to vote on this week.

Cuomo has listed passage of the prevailing wage issue as a top priority in recent months, though he has not specifically said how he would want to change the present bill. While the governor did not bring the issue up at a June 11 press conference, New York State Department of Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon spoke on his behalf at the rally outside the Capitol, signalling that the administration is still seeking to reach a deal on the issue. “He has called for strengthening New York’s prevailing wage laws to ensure greater responsibility for vendors on our public projects,” she said of the governor at the rally.

So it appears likely that an expansion of the prevailing wage will be approved before lawmakers adjourn on June 19. Even critics concede that if lawmakers do not pass a standalone bill in the next week, a “Big Ugly” is likely to include some form of the proposal. However, opponents of the bill are making a last-ditch effort of their own to stop the bill. This mainly consists of raising the same arguments against the bill as before, including how the proposal would increase costs and disincentivize economic development.

A lack of public hearings on the issue and the rush to get the bill passed by the end of session also means that final details of the bill will be determined behind closed doors, according to Brian Sampson, president of Empire Chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors. “The potential impact of this bill, as drafted, could stop economic development in parts of this state for a long time,” he said. “Why aren’t we talking about this bill more openly, and having more discussions and dialogue about it, instead of wrapping it up with a pretty little bow in the ‘Big Ugly?’”

Upcoming Events

Mon 23
Oct 08

Dept. of Building Update

October 8 @ 8:30 am - 10:30 am
Oct 12


October 12 @ 8:00 am - 2:00 pm
Oct 19


October 19 @ 8:00 am - 2:00 pm
Oct 21

WNY Political Luncheon

October 21 @ 11:00 am - 2:00 pm

As a full-service trade association, ABC offers a variety of information, tools and services to its members.


Ogdensburg City Council Votes to Award Wastewater Treatment Plant Contract, Lawsuit Considered by Contractors’ Group

By |September 11th, 2019|Categories: Albany, News|

OGDENSBURG — City Council unanimously voted to award a construction contract to Jett Industries of Colliersville for the $35.9 million wastewater treatment plant rehabilitation project, but also caught an earful from two separate parties skeptical about the process, Monday night.

Ogdensburg City Council Awards WWTP Project Bid, Despite Complaints From Non-Union Labor Representative

By |September 10th, 2019|Categories: Albany, News|

Ogdensburg City Council took a tongue lashing after accepting a $35.9 million wastewater treatment plant rehabilitation project bid from Jett Industries. Amanda Bertram, vice president of public affairs for the Associated Builders and Contractors, called the award shameful and told city councilors they should have heeded her warnings about entering into a project labor agreement just to please Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

Editorial — Too Hot to Handle: Labor Pact Didn’t Save Ogdensburg Any Money on Project Bids

By |August 29th, 2019|Categories: Albany, News|

“It’s not shocking, this is a pattern that we have seen with public works projects across New York state that are bid with project labor agreements,” Amanda Bertram, vice president of public affairs for the Associated Builders and Contractors/Empire State, said in a story published Saturday by the Times. “Across the board, they all come in millions of dollars over engineering estimates. This is a trend.” Associated Builders and Contractors is a national trade organization representing those in the construction industry who don’t belong to unions. Ms. Bertram met with City Council members in November to discuss the disadvantages of using PLAs.

Marijuana Decriminalization to Pass, Wage Mandate Stalls

By |June 20th, 2019|Categories: News, Statewide, Uncategorized|

On Thursday, Cuomo declared a bill expanding a "prevailing wage" requirement that would apply to larger construction projects likely dead. The law would have expanded the definition of "public works" in New York to include projects receiving more than 30 percent of their funding from the government – making those projects eligible for the wage requirement. Powerful building trades unions, who are among Cuomo's most significant political supporters, had pushed the mandate this session.

Membership is available for general contractors, subcontractors, associates and suppliers.