Laborers union aims to expand wage floor to city-funded projects

Construction wage bill would lift compensation outside of 485x

Laborers’ Union Pushes Wage Bill
Councilmember Carmen De La Rosa (Getty)

Organized labor won minimum construction wages for projects citywide receiving property tax break 485x. Now the laborers’ union wants to ensure workers on other affordable housing projects are paid similarly.

Council member Carmen De La Rosa on Thursday is expected to reintroduce a measure that would set a minimum of $40 per hour for construction wages and benefits on projects that receive $1 million or more in city financing, not including as-of-right tax exemptions or abatements. This would apply to projects receiving loans or grants, or using land sold to developers for less than the appraised value.

The measure was also introduced last year, but the new version has some changes. The wage and benefit requirement would kick in for projects with 100 or more units and construction costs of $3 million or more.

The bill also now requires that developers make a “best faith effort” to ensure that people from a “target population” account for at least 30 percent of the hours worked on the project. That population is defined as living in zip codes where at least 15 percent of the individuals are earning incomes below the federal poverty level or living in public housing.

“We are stepping up to ensure that construction workers who build new affordable apartments earn just wages and benefits, and get a real chance to stay in the city they call home,” De La Rosa said in a statement.

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The Mason Tenders’ District Council, which is backing the bill, spearheaded the 485x minimum-wage agreement with the Real Estate Board of New York. Like the Council bill, it set a wage and benefit floor of $40 per hour on projects with 100 units or more throughout the city. Those rules are separate from another set of wage requirements that apply only to certain areas of Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens.

The city bill, if passed, would apply to non-485x projects, growing union laborers’ market share in affordable housing, where it has struggled to compete. Developers are more likely to hire union workers if they are required to pay union-level wages anyway. The union, however, claims the measure would benefit nonunion workers as well.

“We believe in raising wages and improving job quality for all construction workers, not just our members,” Dave Bolger, business manager of the Mason Tenders’ District Council, said in a statement.

The carpenters’ union has backed a separate measure that would require prevailing wages and benefits on projects receiving $1 million or more in city financing.

The laborers’ bill seems an easier sell to the real estate industry. The Real Estate Board of New York has expressed conceptual support for the bill but believes the prevailing-wage requirements in the carpenters’ bill are unworkable.

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