June 9, 2015
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – Like any good plumber looking at a complex job, UA Local 1 Business Manager John Murphy is approaching the goal of full employment holistically. That’s why resolving issues with the city’s 421-a tax abatement program and cracking the affordable housing market have become so critical to the plumbers union.
An overwhelming majority of union members demonstrated their faith in Murphy’s ability to not only retain market share, but also build on what the 150-year-old union has already achieved, when they gave the fourth generation plumber his second 3-year term as business manager this week.
Murphy took the June 6, election with 81.93 percent of the vote.
“The big challenge we have now is 421-a,” Murphy told LaborPress on Monday. “The real estate industry has really distorted the issue. They’re trying to make this about the union preventing community workers from working, and killing affordable housing. But that’s not the case at all.”
As Murphy sees it, efforts by the plumbers union and the rest of the Building Trades to augment 421-a reforms to include expanded prevailing wage language, are all about striking a solid blow against income inequality and creating good middle-class jobs.
And contrary to the narrative coming out of the real estate industry, non-union workers exploited on all fronts, but happy just to have a job, are central to that mission.
“They should be with us,” Murphy said. “We’re not looking to knock them off the jobs — we’re looking to pull them in and represent them. This is a way that we can actually pull community workers into the union and give them a trade, give them a chance to enter the middle class, while building much needed affordable housing.”
Present conditions, however, are suppressing wages for everyone, and creating a race to the bottom that, ultimately, no one can win.
Said Murphy, “Responsible developers want to build the right way using workers that get union wages…but how do they compete? They say, ‘I have to cut costs.’ But if you put in prevailing wage [language], you level the playing field across the board.”
With special programs and agreements, Murphy is convinced that organized labor can help Mayor Bill de Blasio build sorely needed affordle housing.
Together with creative organizing, the newly reelected business manager also believes that the fight for a prevailing wage could have a profound impact on the “Tale of Two Cities” paradigm that Hizzoner has dedicated himself to eradicating.
“One of the reasons we’ve seen such downward pressure on our wages and benefits, in addition to medical inflation that’s tough to keep track of, has to do with workers out there being exploited every day — being paid $15 and $20 an hour with no benefits,” Murphy said. “They have no choice. They need a job. We need to organize those workers. And we need a pipeline to work like affordable housing.”