Politics

Construction union group concerned by de Blasio's executive order

Shortly after Mayor Bill de Blasio signed an executive order meant to bolster unionization on sites receiving New York City subsidies, a construction labor group said its members were not included, which left it concerned about the direction of its negotiations with City Hall.

On July 14, de Blasio signed an executive order which requires companies receiving financial assistance from the city for large development projects to sign labor peace agreements with retail and food establishment tenants that have at least 10 employees or occupy at least 15,000 square feet of space.

Labor peace agreements make it easier to organize workers. Generally, they require employers to maintain a neutral position on organizing efforts so long as workers do not picket, boycott or otherwise interfere with workflow. The executive order notes that the new provisions are meant to protect the economic development and housing projects the city invests in by shielding them from labor strikes and other activity that could threaten their viability.

Greater New York Laborers-Employers Cooperation and Education Trust, a labor management fund that advocates for construction unions and contractors who work with them, said it was surprised to see what was left out of the executive order. The LECET group has been engaged in negotiations with the administration since the city passed major zoning frameworks focused on increasing the city’s affordable housing stock, which did not incorporate labor provisions. At the time, de Blasio officials said they did not think it was legally permissible to use the zoning code to require what the group was calling for: safety training mandates and an apprenticeship program with local hiring provisions. Some members of the Real Affordability for All Coalition, which includes housing and community advocates and has allied itself with construction unions, called for workers building the city’s affordable housing to earn a prevailing wage.

Instead, LECET began discussing how to achieve the same goals through subsidy mandates. From LECET’s point of view, the labor peace agreement clause does little for construction crews. After the executive order was announced, the group’s executive director, Pat Purcell, said in a statement that the “executive order does nothing to protect public resources or build the middle class.”

“We hope this executive order is just another step in the direction of providing real accountability for public subsidies, but the fact that construction workers and the construction industry was, yet again, excluded leaves us concerned about the direction of these conversations,” Purcell told City & State.

Purcell’s push comes as the city prepares to put several rezonings through the public review process. If passed, the rezonings could usher in major residential development projects, including many affordable apartment complexes. City officials have expressed concerns that the cost of having unionized crews build affordable housing may be too expensive and cut into the amount of apartments it can create. An Independent Budget Office report found that paying prevailing wages on affordable housing sites increased costs by about 23 percent.

De Blasio spokesman Austin Finan said the administration shares LECET’s goals and has worked to improve the public benefit tied to subsidies.

“Whether increasing and expanding the living wage, promoting local hiring through HireNYC or protecting workers’ right to organize, we’re raising the bar for taxpayer-funded projects and lifting up working families,” Finan said in a statement. “Setting high standards that ensure public resources incentivize high-road employers doesn’t preclude us from advancing workers’ rights in other sectors it extends the arc toward delivering on the still outstanding protections and rights workers deserve.”

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