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Ignoring Tussle; Labor Welcomes Cuomo’s 421-a Rhetoric

May 30, 2015
By Joe Maniscalco

It ain't easy building affordable housing in NYC.
It ain’t easy building affordable housing in NYC.

New York, NY – The ongoing affordable housing debate raging between Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York’s building trades may have just gotten a lot more complex now that Governor Andrew Cuomo has decided to enter the fray, but labor doesn't appear to be concerned about getting caught in the middle of an ugly executive tussle.


Cuomo crossed up the mayor earlier this week when he suggested that Hizzoner’s plan to revise New York’s 421-a tax abatement —  the program that gives developers huge financial breaks to build housing here — might favor big developers at the expense of solid, middle class jobs.

According to published reports, the governor said, “A lot of people think the deal that’s been negotiated by the city is too rich for developers and doesn’t do enough for workers. I want to make sure the workers are protected and the developers get a fair deal. But I am not interested in passing a program that is a giveaway to the developers.”

The de Blasio administration insists that its plan to revise New York’s 421-a tax abatement program will double the amount of affordable housing units while also boosting the number of available good jobs, even though it purposely excludes a prevailing wage mandate for construction workers.

Steve McInnis, head of the New York City and Vicinity District Council of Carpenters, issued a statement lauding the governor’s “support of labor.”

“Governor Cuomo understands the significance of supporting middle class jobs,” McInnis said. “We recognize and appreciate his efforts in keeping an open dialog when approaching a legislative program that highly influences the lives of the people that build and maintain this great city. It is important to include standard protections for all, and the 421-a tax abatement program should aim to set not only an affordable housing standard, but also a living wage standard for all workers. Reform needs to happen now. Extending the old program is not a viable option for the people of New York.”

New York City Central Labor Council President Vinny Alvarez also commended Governor Cuomo for “considering the needs of everyday workers.”

"The heart of this discussion on 421-a is whether or not we support working families by expanding the existing program, and include prevailing wage protections for the hardworking men and women who have literally helped build this city,” Alvarez said in a statement. "We as a city must focus on the work of reducing the gap between the 'haves' and the 'have nots,'  and making New York City a place that's welcome to all working people.”

In an interview set to air this weekend on WABC TV’s “Up Close with Dianna Williams,” Mayor de Blasio said that the city simply can’t afford to extend prevailing wages to construction workers and build all the units of affordable housing that city residents need. 

“To create affordable housing, we need financing that actually works,” the mayor said. “We need a financial approach that works. Prevailing wage is a very generous wage that simply doesn’t allow us to create the number of affordable units that we need to for hardworking people.”

Mayor de Blasio called his efforts to build affordable housing for New Yorkers, “a sacred responsibility.”

“We can’t do that with prevailing wage,” the mayor said. “We can do that with union labor. I want to do that with union labor, but that has to be at a lesser wage level that we can actually afford.”

Liz McKenna, the carpenters union’s director of communications, told LaborPress that Cuomo’s challenge to the mayor’s 421-a plans came as no surprise. 

“The governor has always been a friend of the Carpenters and understands that worker protections are necessary and vital to the prosperity of New York,” she said. “We’re not concerned about the alleged tussle. At the end of the day, we just want the issue at hand to get serious consideration.”

AFL-CIO chief Richard Trumpka also weighed in on de Blasio's 421-a stance earlier this week, calling it "disappointing." 

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