New York State

Workers left in the lurch

New York labor legislation faces long odds in the GOP-controlled state Senate.

Union supporters during Gov. Andrew Cuomo's remarks at a New York State Nurses Association rally in Albany.

Union supporters during Gov. Andrew Cuomo's remarks at a New York State Nurses Association rally in Albany. Mike Groll/Office of the Governor

The state Legislature is considering several pieces of legislation to improve labor conditions, but many of them have a small chance of success. Meanwhile, the state also pre-emptively reacted to an impending U.S. Supreme Court decision that could affect the ability of unions to collect fees. Here is a rundown of the legislation being considered on labor issues in the state Legislature.
 

Closing the gender pay gap

In 2015, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the Women’s Equality Act, a package of bills that included pay equity legislation. This year, Cuomo has again made reducing the wage gap a priority, promoting legislation to prevent employers from asking about salary history. This bill is still in a state Senate committee. Meanwhile, the Assembly passed bills aimed at further closing the gender pay gap. The primary bill is the Fair Pay Act, which would prohibit employers from paying employees with the same job different wages based on gender, race or national origin. However, none of these bills are co-sponsored by Republicans in the state Senate, and they are still in Senate committees.
 

Farmworker rights

The Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act, which would give farmworkers collective bargaining rights and improve their wages, has been introduced in the state Legislature several times over the past few years. While it generally succeeds in the Assembly, it has failed to pass in the state Senate. This year, the bill remains stuck in committee in both chambers and editorialists are already predicting doom. The Daily News argued that the bill will likely fail again, unless Cuomo puts pressure on Senate Republican leadership.
 

Ending the minimum wage tip credit

The state Labor Department is holding hearings through June across the state to review eliminating the tip credit. Legislative action is not necessarily needed, as the department can raise the minimum wage for tipped workers on its own. However, the idea of raising the minimum wage and possibly eliminating tips faces serious opposition from some in the service industry, and from some Republican lawmakers. Critics argue that servers will ultimately make less money without tips. If the Labor Department raises the minimum wage, the state Legislature could, in theory, reverse that decision. A bill to raise the minimum wage for tipped workers is currently in committee in both the Assembly and the Senate.
 

The Scaffold Law

Efforts to repeal the Scaffold Law reappear every legislative session, but never seem to move forward. Passed in the late 19th century, the Scaffold Law holds contractors and property owners liable for any gravity-related injury that a construction worker sustains on-site if the worker can prove the contractor or owner violated safety standards. Critics argue that the law is damaging and expensive for property owners, but labor groups are hesitant to repeal it, saying it’s essential for worker safety. A bill to repeal the Scaffold Law has some bipartisan support, but is in committee in both the Assembly and the Senate.

Responding to Supreme Court rulings

In April, Cuomo signed legislation in anticipation of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the Janus v. AFSCME Council 31 case that could forbid unions from charging “agency fees” to workers who are not union members. The new law allows unions to limit benefits for workers who do not choose to pay the fees in New York. However, the state’s ability to react to Supreme Court decisions are limited. Last month, the nation’s highest court ruled that workers have to resolve labor disputes individually, rather than banding together for class-action lawsuits. Cuomo released a statement criticizing the ruling and calling on Congress to act, which is the extent of what he can do.

Correction: This article has been updated to clarify the terms of the Scaffold Law.

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