Opinion: It’s time to pay construction workers what they deserve

The Fair Share Act is the way to get there.

New York City Council Member Kevin Riley

New York City Council Member Kevin Riley New York City Council

New York City has been plagued with an affordability and housing crisis for years now. To solve it, we must build significant amounts of new housing for New Yorkers. However, developing affordable housing only solves one part of the problem. To make New York City affordable, we need better-paying jobs that come with benefits like healthcare and retirement security.

Developing hundreds of thousands of affordable units is going to require billions of dollars of public subsidies, but we need to make sure that these tax dollars are being redistributed into the community. The public deserves their fair share. I believe that every project receiving a subsidy should require developers to pay all of their workers that risk their lives to build these projects a good wage with benefits. Taxpayer money should be used to grow the economy, not widen income inequality.

That is why I introduced the Fair Share Act. Because I believe the people actually building these projects, the ones whose taxes are partially paying for the subsidies in the first place, should receive a fair wage and benefits package – they should get their Fair Share.

A career as a construction worker used to be a guaranteed ticket to the middle class. Not anymore.

According to a study from the University of California Berkeley’s Center for Labor Research, 41% of construction workers and their families are dependent on some form of government assistance, and 25% of all construction workers lack health insurance. This costs taxpayers more than $2 billion dollars a year at the state and federal level to provide benefits. Additionally, the state loses nearly another $400 million dollars a year to tax fraud and wage theft as shady contractors avoid paying unemployment insurance. The Fair Share Act will change that in New York City and ensure all construction workers, union and nonunion alike, are paid a wage that allows them to build their own slice of the American dream.

The Fair Share Act will require that all construction workers are paid a prevailing wage when working on projects receiving a public subsidy. Prevailing wage is a pay rate set by law in each state for work on public projects. Using these wage requirements forges a pathway to the middle class and benefits the overall economy. Although similar laws exist, exemptions for construction workers have turned what was once a pathway to the middle class into another low-wage paying job.

Many of the constituents in my district work in construction. Some, like Terrell Martin, were able to join the carpenter’s union which guaranteed him a pathway to the middle class with a prevailing wage and benefits. This gave him the ability to support his twin girls. Every construction worker deserves this opportunity.

No one can accuse construction workers of not putting their blood, sweat, and tears into building this city, and it’s time to prioritize their futures once and for all. With this piece of legislation, our tax dollars will be spent investing in our families and our city. 

A bipartisan supermajority of my colleagues have joined me in supporting the Fair Share Act and I am hopeful we can take action to pass this bill quickly.

If we are serious about making sure New York City is affordable for the next generation, we must take strong action today. With one piece of legislation, we will lift up an entire sector of the economy, rebuild the middle class, save taxpayer money, and grow the economy. I and my colleagues look forward to working with Speaker Adrienne Adams and Mayor Eric Adams to pass this bill and sign it into law.