April 20, 2012
By Marc Bussanich, LaborPress City Reporter
Assemblymember Rory Lancman of District 25, who’s currently running for Congress, proposed this week to amend NY State Labor Law, Section 220, so as to make crystal clear that public sector tradesmen are entitled to the same prevailing wage law protections enjoyed by private sector tradesmen.
Lancman said that he will be submitting a draft of the amendment, which will evolve and change as different stakeholders provide their input.
“The amendment makes it clear that prevailing wage law applies not just to contractors hired by the City, but also to the City itself when it employs tradespeople in public work activities,” said Lancman.
Lancman noted that for over 100 years, it’s been recognized that tradespeople in the public sector be paid prevailing wages.
“Last week, the City, out of the blue, decided to reverse 100 years of that recognition, which will contribute to public sector workers being treated like second-class citizens compared to their private sector counterparts.
The amendment is intended to eliminate a loophole in Section 220, according to Lancman.
“The current law has been understood for over a century to apply and cover tradespeople that work directly for the City, but it doesn’t say so explicitly. We’re going to amend the statute to make it explicit and not allow the City or any other municipality to interpret prevailing wage law differently,” Lancman said.
In response to the part of the NY State Civil Service Law the Mayor used to justify his unilateral decision to upset the 100-plus year old arrangement, Lancman said he believes that the Mayor is relying on the City of New York City Charter.
“But prevailing wage law is set by state law, which trumps the City Charter, and insofar as civil service law has a role, the state prevailing wage law, if explicitly defined, would trump civil service laws as well,” which would purportedly undercut the Mayor’s rationale.
The Mayor claims that because prevailing wages have been set by the Comptroller’s Office, the cost to taxpayers has been approximately $680 million over the last decade.
Lancman challenged that idea by saying, “Prevailing wages exist because cities and municipalities should not be in a race to the bottom. To underpay workers and undermine their wages means undermining wages and benefits throughout the industry. We could save a lot of money if we abolished minimum wage and overtime wages, but prevailing wages exist because we decided as a society that workers deserve fair wages.”
Lancman suspects there’ll be a lawsuit and ultimately a judge will have to decide whose interpretation of prevailing wage law is correct.
“But rather than wait for that to happen, creating a situation where a judge could potentially rule against the public sector tradespeople, we can just amend the state prevailing wage law to make crystal clear what has frankly been clear for the last 100 years.”
Lancman noted that after he receives input, he’ll introduce the bill in the Assembly and hopefully pick up a Senate sponsor quickly so that both houses can pass the bill.