Opinion

The end of local hiring in New York City construction

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New York City’s construction boom is providing a wellspring of job opportunities for thousands across the five boroughs. It only makes sense for local residents to share in the benefits of development by gaining access to construction jobs generated by new projects.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and his administration have rightly taken this message to heart and made local hiring a component of proposed rezonings and city-sponsored developments – especially in historically underserved neighborhoods where jobs are most needed. At a time when many communities are wary of change – particularly with regard to mixed-income development – the prospect of job creation will remain critical to the administration’s push to build support for its plans.

But there is a huge obstacle on the horizon: The City Council is on the verge of passing legislation that would cripple local hiring efforts, and make it virtually impossible for builders and community-based organizations to connect many residents with gainful employment through construction jobs.

This legislation, known as Intro 1447, would fundamentally change the hiring standards in New York City’s construction industry. The bill was meant to increase safety for construction workers – a necessary and laudable goal. The problem, as the Daily News editorial board and others have pointed out, is that Intro 1447 would not fully address safety concerns, and would instead have unintended consequences that include putting many construction workers out of a job.

Intro 1447 would require a minimum of 59 hours of training for construction workers – nearly six times the current standard – regardless of whether their role on a work site actually includes tasks covered by that training. As many have noted, the sheer number of workers affected by this proposed mandate means the city would have to provide millions of hours of training by next July, when the new requirements would take effect. The City Council has not provided any evidence that this is feasible – because it is not.

Simply put, the arbitrary 59-hour minimum will exclude thousands of workers and potential workers who do not already have connections in the construction industry – for example, through a union membership. And as the New York Construction Alliance has shown, the overwhelming majority of our city’s open-shop construction workers are actually local residents. The numbers show that construction unions cannot assert the same. 

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To see how this issue is already starting to play out, look no further than Acacia Gardens, a city-sponsored affordable housing development in East Harlem. This 179-unit building, currently under construction, is located in Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito’s district – also an area Mayor de Blasio hopes to rezone for new development later this year.

The project’s general contractor, Lettire Construction, has built bonds with the community by keeping its word on a local hiring agreement that provides around 50 percent of the building’s construction jobs to East Harlem residents. In other words, it is a microcosm for what the de Blasio administration can and should hope to achieve on new developments in the proposed East Harlem rezoning.

But Lettire has admitted that if the City Council passes Intro 1447, it would no longer be able to meet its obligations under the local hiring agreement. More of those construction jobs would go to people outside East Harlem and fewer would go to locals.

Community Board 11, which represents East Harlem and is a party to the Acacia Gardens agreement, has also weighed in by passing a resolution opposing Intro 1447. According to that resolution, the bill “fails to recognize…Community Board 11’s tireless efforts on local hiring, creating yet more barriers to ensure placement on local development projects.”

The City Council should listen to these East Harlem community leaders, part of a growing chorus of opposition, and stop Intro 1447 now. If not, it is local residents – and Mayor de Blasio’s affordable housing plans – that will pay the price.

Kenneth Thomas is executive director of the New York Construction Alliance.

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