News & Politics

Laborers union asks legislature to include $40 minimum wage in 421-a replacement

The Mason Tenders District Council has already agreed to a wage deal with REBNY and now wants legislators to codify it into law.

A construction worker holds a sign calling for higher wages.

A construction worker holds a sign calling for higher wages. Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images

As the negotiations over a wage deal for a new developer incentive for affordable housing continue, several community groups and a union representing construction workers are calling on Gov. Kathy Hochul, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins to codify a $40 minimum wage into state law for all construction workers who would work on projects receiving the new tax benefit. 

In statements shared exclusively with City & State, the Mason Tenders District Council and several employment-focused community groups are asking state officials to ensure that any replacement for the 421-a incentive program for developers includes a $40 minimum wage that would apply to all construction workers, both union and nonunion, who work on projects that benefit from the new program. 

The Mason Tenders District Council, which represents laborers on construction projects, has already agreed to a similar wage deal with the Real Estate Board of New York. The Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York is still engaged in talks with REBNY for an overarching wage deal for a 421-a replacement, but those discussions have reached a stalemate. “We understand and respect that other unions are still negotiating separate agreements for inclusion in the 421-a replacement program,” said Dave Bolger, the business manager at the laborers union. “But those negotiations should not prevent Governor Hochul and the state legislature from offering support now for this $40 minimum wage for all construction workers.” The Building Trades Council did not immediately return a request for comment about the new push to enshrine the $40 minimum wage deal into law.

Several community groups representing immigrants, formerly incarcerated individuals and day laborers co-signed the push. “Our communities need more affordable housing and good-paying jobs, especially in construction, where nonunion workers often still earn as little as $16 an hour,” the groups Center for Employment Opportunities, Urban Upbound and La Colmena wrote in a statement. “Increasing the minimum wage for construction workers from $16 to $40 will immediately transform the lives of tens of thousands of New Yorkers and their communities.”

The Mason Tenders is the first group to come to an agreement with REBNY for a wage floor for a new program that would provide tax breaks to developers in return for building affordable housing in New York City. Under the deal, pay and benefits for construction workers would start at $35 per hour immediately, before rising to $40 per hour starting in 2026 and steadily increasing to $45 per hour over the next several years. The wages would apply citywide to projects of 100 units or more. “We believe in raising wages and improving job quality for all construction workers, not just our members,” Bolger said. “This agreement with REBNY will strengthen and empower New York’s construction workforce as a whole, enabling workers who are struggling to survive to become part of the middle class.”

Although the Mason Tenders have agreed to the new wage floor, other construction trades have found the agreement insufficient for their members and for construction workers more generally. In a memo recently circulated among state lawmakers and staff, which was shared with City & State, the New York City District Council of Carpenters wrote that “$40 doesn’t raise the floor, it’s not $40 and it mandates the status quo while pretending to be a gift.” The memo is particularly critical of the fact that the wage floor includes at least $15 in benefits, making the actual hourly take home wage just $25 per hour, and the fact that the $40 rate doesn’t even kick in until 2026. The political director for Steamfitters Local 638 previously told City & State that the Mason Tenders’ wage floor is too low to benefit other trades.

A spokesperson for the Mason Tenders defended the deal against criticism from other unions. “This $40 minimum wage for construction workers will lift tens of thousands of working poor New Yorkers into the middle class,” the spokesperson said. “This is a $40 hard-dollar minimum wage, meaning every penny of that $40 will go to the worker, either in direct wages or a combination of wages and benefits.”

REBNY also offered support for the prospect of codifying the $40 minimum wage into state law. "This unprecedented citywide approach would provide a family sustaining wage for a broad range of construction workers across the city, and we applaud those advocating for it today” REBNY Senior Vice President Zach Steinberg said in a statement to City & State. “We’re hopeful State lawmakers can agree on a housing supply plan this session so this groundbreaking step can be implemented.”

Other construction unions that are members of the broader Building Trades Council, including the Carpenters, have also called on the state Legislature to step in to write strong wage standards, though those unions are calling for significantly higher wages than what the Mason Tenders have agreed to with REBNY.

Legislative leaders have indicated that they would prefer to wait until REBNY and the Building Trades Council come to an agreement on new wage standards, rather than stepping in to write wage standards that are not supported by both sides. “REBNY and the trades are working, but we are still in conversations, as well as the Senate,” Heastie told reporters on Tuesday. “We’re not just standing on the sidelines while they work this out, but in a way you have to come up with something that they’re both comfortable with.” Last week, Stewart-Cousins said last week that she would not “overreact” to the negotiating stalemate. She said it is still up to developers and unions to come to an overarching agreement on wage standards.