New York State

Building trades ask state Legislature to step in on 421-a labor standards

Eight construction unions criticized REBNY’s proposal for a wage floor and urged lawmakers to take the lead on a compromise plan.

Ironworkers and other unions signed on to a statement backing labor leader Gary LaBarbera in labor standards negotiations for a 421-a replacement.

Ironworkers and other unions signed on to a statement backing labor leader Gary LaBarbera in labor standards negotiations for a 421-a replacement. Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images

Days after the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York rejected a final proposal from the Real Estate Board of New York on labor standards in a potential 421-a replacement program, several unions are standing by their leader’s decision. And they're calling in lawmakers to step in if developers don’t budge.

Eight of the trades that make up the council’s executive board put out a statement shared exclusively with City & State criticizing REBNY and its wage proposal. “As members of the Building Trades representing tens of thousands of workers, we rejected their offer because it was a rehash of every flawed policy that existed under the previous 421-a program,” they said. “We will not stand for it and just as important: we do not stand alone.” The trades offered support for President Gary LaBarbera.

The eight unions said that if REBNY “continues to refuse to negotiate in good faith, it is imperative for our elected officials to step up to the plate.” So far, legislative leaders have deferred to the unions and developers to find a wage compromise to set labor standards. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie told reporters on Tuesday that a housing deal won’t happen in the budget without a wage deal. “We urge (lawmakers) to work with us and housing advocates to spearhead a program that prioritizes the needs of workers, tenants and all New Yorkers,” the unions said.

The statement was signed by leaders from the New York City District Council of Carpenters, Steamfitters Local 638, IBEW Local 3, UA Plumbers Local 1, Cement Masons Local 780, Plasterers Local 262, Ironworkers, and Teamsters Local 282.

Following the building trades’ rejection of its proposal, REBNY released a statement defending the deal they brought to the table as providing “generous” benefits for labor and incentivizing affordable development. “We’ve worked hard, in good faith, to strike that balance in our proposal,” REBNY Senior Vice President of Policy Zach Steinberg said. “We’re hopeful all stakeholders will continue working constructively toward addressing the housing crisis in a meaningful way this legislative session.”

Under the REBNY proposal, workers on qualifying projects of 150 units or more south of 96th Street in Manhattan would receive average wage and benefits pay of $72.45 per hour. Projects of that size in certain ZIP codes in Brooklyn and Queens would see workers getting an average wage and benefits salary of $56 per hour. And citywide, any project with 100 or more units would require workers to receive average wage and benefits of $35 per hour, rising to $40 per hour starting in 2026 and hitting $45 per hour in 2033.

In their statement, the eight unions said that a new program cannot rely on average wages – calculated after a project is complete – as a base for labor standards. “To be clear, we cannot – and will not – support the creation of a multibillion-dollar taxpayer-funded program that regurgitates the average wage policy – a wage standard that has been proven to be ripe with abuse,” the trades said. They added that both the unions and housing advocates have offered “serious concessions.” “All REBNY has offered us is scraps and more of the same policies that created this mess in the first place,” they said.

The proposal from REBNY would represent a 15% wage improvement in Manhattan and a 19% increase in parts of Brooklyn and Queens compared to the previous 421-a program while keeping the same average wage structure. It also included additional enforcement measures meant to ensure compliance in real time rather than after a project’s completion.

Not every union in the Building and Construction Trades Council shared the opinion from the statement. The Mason Tenders’ District Council agreed to a wage floor with REBNY earlier this month – separate from the broader Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York – and has defended developers’ pitches in negotiations. “While no negotiation is perfect, we are glad that the $40 wage floor for the 421-a replacement program remains in place,” Mason Tenders’ District Council Business Manager Dave Bolger said after the rejection of REBNY’s proposal. “These negotiations with REBNY have occurred in good faith under conditions of crisis in the housing market.”