June 14, 2017
By Steven Wishnia
Albany, NY – On June 13, the New York Regional Conference of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers invited reporters and elected officials to try some of the tasks masonry workers do on the job, like laying bricks and setting tile. More daring participants, the union said, could “strap into a safety harness and stand on a two-point suspended scaffold rig about three feet wide.”
“The rig never leaves the floor,” it noted, “but it conveys the sensation of hanging off the side of a building hundreds of feet off the ground grinding mortar points.”
The event, held in the state Legislative Office Building’s “well” public area, had two main points. First, to show the skill and versatility of masonry workers. “Masonry crafts are as old as civilization itself, and stem from a rare combination of artistic inspiration, precision, and muscle,” the union said. Second, to strengthen the position of union labor in the construction industry—specifically, urging the Legislature to pass a bill that would close loopholes in the state law requiring contractors on publicly funded construction projects to pay prevailing wages and benefits.
The bill, sponsored by Harry Bronson (D-Rochester) in the Assembly and Terrence Murphy (R-Putnam) in the Senate, would extend prevailing-wage requirements to all government-subsidized construction in the state, the Bricklayers say. It would expand the definition of “paid for out of public funds” to include private projects built specifically for public entities, public property sold or rented at a discount, tax credits, and money paid or bonds issued by a public entity or a third party acting on its behalf, along with some loans. It defines a “public entity” as including public-benefit corporations, industrial development agencies, local development authorities, entities tasked with maintaining public property, and more. It would also give the state labor commissioner the power to issue a stop-work order for alleged violations.
Prevailing wage and benefit requirements have “been under attack for decades” and “routinely don’t apply to all kinds of government-subsidized construction,” the Bricklayers said in a statement. “The result is that our government routinely subsidizes projects with non-union contractors and developers that pay subsistence wages. Ultimately this degrades wages and benefits across the industry. If we look at the large and increasing number of fatalities across New York (approximately 78% of which were nonunion workers), it’s clear that the chickens have come home to roost.”
With a week left in the legislative session, the bill has not made it to the floor in either house. In the Assembly, the Labor Committee referred it to the Codes Committee early last month. In the Senate, the Labor Committee referred it to the Finance Committee.