“It’s hard to say whether it was a successful or an unsuccessful year for labor,” said state Sen. Diane Savino, reflecting upon the 2012 legislative session in Albany. “Labor’s issues are constant, and they fluctuate, and sometimes you have a lot of great victories in a year, and sometimes you have to slow down and reassess.”
Whereas in some sessions the most significant pieces of legislation pertaining to labor are pro-union—measures like 2010’s Domestic Workers Bill of Rights and the Wage Theft Prevention Act—in 2012 the main issue of debate revolved around a measure that was largely opposed by organized labor: the new Tier VI pension plan.
When he signed Tier VI into law in March, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said, “This bold and transformational pension reform plan is a historic win for New York taxpayers and municipalities that will save more than $80 billion over the next 30 years, while preserving retirement security for public workers. Without this critical reform, New Yorkers would have seen significant tax increases, as well as layoffs to teachers, firefighters and police.”
Sen. Savino, who was a top labor official with DC 37 before her election in 2004, was less sanguine in her assessment of Tier VI, which she voted against, along with her fellow members of the Independent Democratic Conference.
“It was a mistake,” she said. “I think it was pandering to the anti–public employee faction, and at the end of the day it’s not going to do anything to reduce the burden on local governments or state governments. What it’s doing is turning the clock back on income security for future employees.”
Peter Abbate, a member of the Assembly’s Labor Committee, said that for unions the 2012 session was more about playing defense than passing new legislation.
“The problem is … that things that were fought for and worked on for a very long time are now under attack, trying to be taken away … health care, pension benefits,” he said.
Abbate said he and his colleagues worked hard the last couple of days in the Assembly to try to get some of the “onerous parts” out of Tier VI.
“The 401(k) was a disaster—once you go down that road you’re in deep trouble,” he said. “I think the retirement age helped, keeping certain people out of it helped, and yet … we don’t see any effect right now—but younger workers are going to feel it. You’re going to have people working side by side in Tier V and VI in the future wondering why one person is getting one benefit and the [other] person is not getting the other. That’s not great for the morale of our state workforce.”
Amid the battle over Tier VI and a number of other legislative fights concerning unrelated policy areas, the major bills aiming to improve the lot of workers in New York State stalled. The most talked-about of these measures was an effort led by Democrats to increase the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $8.50, which was ultimately scuttled by the Republican majority in the Senate.
Proponents of raising the minimum wage have not given up, however, and a renewed push for the increase is all but certain to be a major point of contention in 2013. Savino is optimistic that next year there will be a breakthrough.
“There’s nobody who doesn’t agree that it’s time for New York State to raise the minimum wage,” she asserted.
Among the other pieces of proposed legislation that will carry over into the 2012 session is a bill that would eliminate the outsourcing of call centers. There is also a movement afoot to draft a freelancers’ bill of rights. Though mandating paid sick leave is a hot issue in New York City, lawmakers agree that there is little chance of any parallel effort advancing on the
Sen. Savino believes that instituting a freelancers’ bill of rights is particularly timely, given the shifting nature of employment in the state.
The 2013 session, she said, will largely be about “trying to recognize that the world of work is changing and the future of the workforce is not necessarily the traditional 40-hour industrial manufacturing base.”
“I think you’re going to see the emergence of the freelancers … [who are] the future of the workforce in some ways,” she said. “If we’re smart, both as legislators and as labor leaders, we’ll acknowledge that work is going to change dramatically for people. Technology is going to determine a lot of that, and we need to find ways to make sure working people get protected.”
What Got Done in 2012:
What’s on the Agenda:
Raising the minimum wage
Eliminating outsourcing of call centers
Instituting a freelancers’ bill of rights
New York City District Council of Carpenters
The New York City District Council of Carpenters’ 2013 agenda focuses on creating and maintaining good paying jobs for working people.
We continue to support legislation that regulates the job order contracting (JOC) method. One such bill passed the Senate but got held up in the Assembly. We believe JOC is an unspecified contracting method that leads to noncompliance with prevailing wage and other labor law requirements, especially on larger projects.
Multiple audits by the NYC comptroller, including a recent report by the Department of Design and Construction, show the process does not save public agencies money and leads to numerous delays, which is contrary to supporters’ claims.
Additionally concerning is that the New York City Housing Authority recently testified at a City Council hearing that it would use JOC to deal with its well docmented troubles and speed up the procurement process. After the DDC audit found that 80 percent of 139 sampled job orders went past its guideline for job order development, will there be a fourth critical report when NYCHA fails? It’s clear this method is not the solution.
We believe the legislation that passed the Senate would appropriately address the problem, as it puts the process in statute, restricts the size of projects and ensures contractors pay the appropriate wages on public work.
Additionally, we support large infrastructure initiatives, such as building a new Tappan Zee Bridge, as well as smaller efforts that provide workers with a living wage in a safe and secure workplace, while also improving the communities where they live.
Plumbers Local 1
It is an unfortunate fact of life in today’s political climate that our priorities must focus on the preservation of long-standing existing legislation that protects the rights and wages of our members and workingmen and -women throughout New York.
We will continue to fight to ensure that prevailing wage laws remain on the books and are properly enforced. Legislators must realize the importance of the Wicks law and project labor agreements, as both offer prevailing wage protections for workers—and, as studies have shown, they save the taxpayers money. These same protections should also apply to all agencies that utilize job order contracts.
In April the city issued a Personnel Order that attempted to eliminate the comptroller’s role in setting prevailing wages for thousands of city workers. As long as these attacks on labor continue, we will pursue legislation to protect our members and their rights.
In the private sector, we will work with elected officials to enforce the New York Construction Industry Fair Play Act, legislation that has real consequences for unscrupulous contractors who are not paying their fair share of taxes, NYS unemployment and workers’ compensation insurance. Studies have shown that the state is losing millions in revenue every single year.
We will also be working with other unions to protect the Triborough Amendment. Designed to level the playing field for workers who have given up the right to strike, this amendment protects the existing wages and conditions once a contract has expired. It works, and it should be left alone.
We are all in this together.
Retail, Wholesale, Department Store Union
Economic policies of the past have held New York back, and corporate special interests have led us down the wrong path. Our current means for job growth have failed to deliver good jobs or to revitalize communities. New York State needs a new model for job creation and economic development—one that asserts the need for better-paying jobs, accountability for businesses and a strong partnership with government.
The Legislature and governor need to work together to raise the minimum wage in New York. Over the last five years, the minimum wage has increased by only 10 cents per hour; however, the cost of living is higher than ever. It’s all but impossible to get by on the current minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. Yet countless New Yorkers struggle to do exactly that, as costs of groceries, rent and utilities continue to rise. Eighteen other states have raised their minimum wages above the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour. We can do the same in New York! That’s why RWDSU is determined to fight alongside low-wage and exploited workers, while leading efforts toward improving the lives of working families.
Government, in partnership with business, organized labor and local stakeholders, can play an active role in creating opportunities and reducing economic inequality. However, in order to truly succeed, these relationships must generate the supply of quality jobs and ensure that low-income New Yorkers can obtain those jobs. That’s why RWDSU endorsed a new proposal to turn the Kingsbridge Armory in the Bronx into a new $275 million ice-sports center.