September 16, 2016
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – Mayor Bill de Blasio’s commitment to New York City hardhats fighting to maintain a foothold in the middle class is being called into serious question this week.
The challenge came at a New York City Council Civil Service and Labor Committee hearing held on Thursday afternoon, in which Council Member Elizabeth Crowley [D-30th District] sparred with Commissioner of Labor Relations Bob Linn and Office of Labor Policy and Standards Deputy Commissioner Liz Vladeck, over the results of a new Murphy Institute report on the state of organized labor in New York and the rest of the nation.
At issue? The amount of city contracts being awarded through the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development to shady, non-union developers.
“Not only have reports shown that most of the companies are non-union,” Council Member Crowley said. “There have been reports that companies break labor laws, tax laws – and are not only exploiting their workforce, but downright doing illegal practices. What is the Department of Consumer Affairs doing to better regulate not only the companies that are non-union, but companies that are downright exploiting the workforce?”
Council Member Crowley’s challenges came at the same time the administration began touting new legislation aimed at eliminating unpredictable work schedules in the fast food industry, as was as the the Department of Consumer Affairs’ new mission to “protect and enhance the daily economic lives of New Yorkers.”
“I am certainly supportive of the expansion of unionization,” Linn told Council Member Crowley at one point. But the Queens legislator wasn’t convinced.
“You may be — but I’m not sure that’s shared with the administration,” Council Member Crowley said. Instead, the Queens legislator cited difficulties trying to achieve a greater level of transparency when it comes to builders directly benefitting from taxpayer dollars.
“They’re not union companies and a lot of them have violated labor laws,” Council Member Crowley continued. “But we’re continuing to employ them with contracts on city jobs. It’s just one example of how the city….is helping employers who have been found to be braking labor laws. Some of them have been fined significantly by the attorney general. There is exploitation going around by employers in this city and, unfortunately, our tax dollars are helping them do that.”
Vladeck attempted to assure the council member that she shared her concerns about worker exploitation – but also alluded to “larger forces at play.”
“I share your concerns about construction workers — my husband is one, and so, I’m very sensitive,” Vladeck said.
“I hope he’s unionized,” Council Member Crowley interjected.
“He is,” Vladeck responded. “But even as I’m sure you know, unionized workers, non-union workers — there are larger forces at play that are creating significant pressures.”
The Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York has been fighting tooth and nail against a growing incursion of non-union building throughout the city, while also tangling with the Real Estate Board of New York over what comes after the now-defunct 421-a tax abatement program.