New York State

Labor looks to Albany to protect workers

Lawmakers eye public works reform, elevator safety and farmworkers’ rights.

Lawmakers eye public works reform, elevator safety and farmworkers’ rights.

Lawmakers eye public works reform, elevator safety and farmworkers’ rights. Patrick Cashin/MTA

A number of labor-related bills didn’t advance in the 2018 state legislative session, but are nonetheless expected to be up for discussion next year.

“There are going to be a lot of labor issues – for the public sector and the private sector – that we will be diving deeper into with a Democratic (Assembly), Senate and governor,” said state Sen. Diane Savino, who served as the ranking member of the Senate Labor Committee this year.

✓ Public works reform

Contractors and developers are required to pay their workers prevailing wages on public works projects – but in New York, just what constitutes a “public work” is a bit of an open question. For years, state legislators have been trying to define public works as any project that receives any amount of state funding. In 2018, a public works reform bill passed in a 116-28 vote in the Assembly, but stalled in the state Senate Finance Committee.

In March, 18 business groups wrote to Cuomo expressing their opposition to the public works reform bill. They argued that expanding the definition of public works would “result in less economic development across New York State and needlessly waste taxpayer dollars.” Given the scope of Cuomo’s statewide infrastructure redevelopments, public works reform will remain a pressing concern in the new year.

✓ Elevator safety

In 2012, state Sen. John Bonacic introduced a bill that would require anyone involved in the mechanics of elevators – such as designers, construction workers, operators and inspectors – to be licensed by the state labor commissioner. The bill was approved by the Senate Labor Committee and passed by the Assembly, but failed to advance in the Senate Finance Committee. Bonacic reintroduced the bill four more times, without any luck.

Earlier this year, Bonacic announced his retirement, but according to state Sen. Diane Savino, the push for elevator safety legislation will still be a legislative priority come January. Savino replaced Bonacic as sponsor of the bill when she reintroduced it in March 2017. When Democrats assume control of the Senate next year, the bill might just make it to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s desk.

✓ Farmworkers’ rights

The Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act, which would grant farmworkers collective bargaining rights, workers’ compensation and unemployment benefits, was approved by the Senate Labor Committee in February and was sent to the Senate Agriculture Committee. This isn’t the first time the bill has been down this path. Back in 2010, the Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act was approved by both the Labor and Codes committees but failed to advance through the Agriculture Committee.

In March, the Daily News argued that Senate Republicans were responsible for the Democratic-sponsored bill not making it to the floor for consideration, but state Sen. Diane Savino argued that it isn’t a partisan issue. “It continues to be controversial across both parties,” she said. “If you’re an upstate member and you represent a farming community, there’s a real concern on what a farmers bill of rights would do to the farming industry – the agriculture industry.”

✓ New York Health Act

The New York Health Act, which has the support of the Assembly, would establish a single-payer health care system in the state. The message of state-funded “Medicare-for-all” was particularly salient in Democratic campaigns across the country during the 2018 elections, but public sector unions in New York are worried about how the bill might affect their members. The Municipal Labor Committee, which represents public sector unions in New York City, has raised concerns about losing full coverage options and welfare funds, according to recent reporting by Politico New York. Unlike the Assembly, the state Senate did not pass the bill in 2018, but Democratic newcomers have been expressing their support.

RELATED: Did Gounardes get the best Senate committee assignment?