The Real Deal New York

Gov. Cuomo pushes for union wage requirements, says vacancy decontrol coming to an end

By Kathryn Brenzel | January 15, 2019 05:45PM

Governor Cuomo Outlines 2019 Justice Agenda: The Time is Now (Credit: governorandrewcuomo via Flickr)

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday said he will push for an expansion of what projects are required to pay workers prevailing wages, a change that would benefit the city’s construction unions.

During the governor’s joint State of the State and budget address, Cuomo said projects that receive public subsidies should be required to pay prevailing wages (essentially union pay), noting that it would ensure developments are “built right, built fairly.” The state legislature has previously tried to enact such a change by revising the definition of “public works” to mean any project that receives public funding. Last year, a bill seeking to do just that passed the Assembly but stalled in the Senate.

It wasn’t immediately clear if Cuomo was also referring to a bill drafted by the AFL-CIO in December. That draft legislation not only seeks to expand the definition of public works but singles out a few New York City projects, including the western portion of Hudson Yards, the new Amazon headquarters, housing on Roosevelt Island and the Gateway Tunnel project.

For more than a year, the western portion of Hudson Yards has been a battleground, so legislating the workforce mix would likely escalate tensions – especially in the development community. The Building and Construction Trades Council has held weekly protests at the mega-development over Related Companies’ use of nonunion labor. Though the BCTC’s #CountMeIn campaign tweeted that the governor supported the draft legislation, Cuomo hasn’t publicly endorsed it. Still, he wasn’t shy about his support of the unions on Tuesday.

“I love them,” Cuomo said during the address, in response to cheers from the crowd.

The governor also said on Tuesday that he’d push for making a 2 percent cap on local property taxes permanent, citing the crippling effects of President Trump’s tax bill. He also plans to propose a five-year extension of the millionaire’s tax, which is set to expire at the end of this year.

Additionally, he laid out a proposal to change the state’s procurement process. He said he would direct SUNY and CUNY to allow the state inspector general to audit contracts bigger than $250 million. The change seems to be a direct response to the multi-million dollar bid-rigging scheme that played out in the state’s “Buffalo Billion” program, one that implicated former confidants of the governor.

Cuomo also noted that with Democrats controlling both the state Senate and Assembly, vacancy decontrol and preferential rent can be eliminated and programs that allow landlords to increase rents could be limited.

“With a democratic senate we can get that done,” he said.

Last year, the governor promised to end vacancy decontrol, a 24-year-old program that allows landlords to take apartments out of rent stabilization when the rent reaches $2,733 and the unit is vacant.

Sen. Mike Gianaris has already vowed to introduce legislation that would end two programs that allow landlords to increase rent on regulated apartments through upgrades known as Major Capital Improvements and Individual Apartment Improvements. The governor, however, only referenced “limiting” such programs.