ABC Empire State beats back effort to expand prevailing wage

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An ABC Empire State poster outlines the arguments against extending prevailing wage legislation

As the New York state legislature adjourned in Albany, Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) Empire State Chapter members celebrated the successful blockage of an extremely onerous effort to expand prevailing wage in the state well beyond its typical applicability on public works projects.

The effort, widely supported by Democrats in the legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, sought to expand the definition of “public works” to a bevy of private projects receiving more than 30 percent of the project budget from public sources beyond direct public investment. This would have included things like tax-free bonds on affordable housing, various tax incentives on environmental cleanup work and energy-related tax credits, among other sources of public assistance.

Unlike many prevailing wage states, as long as a union claims to represent 30% of the workforce, the state automatically adopts their wage and benefits for prevailing wage work. This expansion, on top of widening the pool of work for which it would be harder for merit shop contractors to compete, could have raised construction costs by as much as 30%. This would have severely harmed New York taxpayers, many of whom benefit from the projects with bottom lines that would have been negatively impacted by the proposed expansion.

Throughout the legislative session, the legislature and the governor’s office worked together to advance the measure through a variety of approaches, including a discussion about narrowing the scope of certain affordable housing projects to which the expansion would apply and even an effort to exclude New York City from the expansion altogether. However, in the face of widespread vocal opposition from ABC Empire Chapter and its members, as well as associated coalition groups, the bill was ultimately defeated.

“There is no doubt that if passed, this bill would have crippled the construction industry,” said chapter president Brian Sampson. “Though this is a big victory for the chapter, the battle over expanding prevailing wage is not over, with Gov. Cuomo announcing that this is one of his top three priorities for 2020. We will continue to fight and advocate for even stronger protections against policies that damage the merit shop construction industry in the coming months and years.”

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