Will NY ‘prevailing wage’ legislation reduce MWBE diversity and opportunity?

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Photo: Stefan Ringel/Brooklyn BP’s Office

The issue is racially charged: Will lobbying for “prevailing wage” legislation by New York’s building trade unions, if successful, result in less diversity and opportunity for minority and women owned businesses?

Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams joined the 400 Foundation and senior pastors from across New York City on the steps of City Hall on June 11 to launch the “Release the Data” campaign, calling for a fair data-driven, and diversity-forward commitment prior to passage of the State Legislature’s current public works/prevailing wage legislative proposal Kings County Politics reports.

The legislation, S.1947/A.1261, sponsored by Senate Committee Chair Jessica Ramos (D-Queens) includes changing the prevailing wage of construction workers based on region and possibly narrowing the scope of the definition of a public works project, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Specifically, Adams and faith leaders called on state lawmakers to “Release the Data” by requiring developers to report data on the diversity of their construction workforce on projects that receive public funding.

“Before the State Legislature considers any expansion of prevailing wage, we need to make sure construction workers of color are not left out of the equation. Housing advocates often ask, ‘Affordable housing for whom?’ We should also be asking, ‘Prevailing wage for whom?’ The ‘Release the Data’ campaign will help us answer that question,” said Adams.

If the definition of “public works” is changed as proposed in the measures, organized labor would benefit since effectively union-level wages would be required for all publicly funded projects.

This would potentially make union shops more competitive with the city’s rising tide of nonunion contractors, who would no longer be able to boast lower wages on such projects, according to the The Real Deal.

“NYSAMC has been a fierce supporter and advocate for minority contractors and developers in New York State over the last 29 plus years,” said Joseph Coello Sr., President of the New York State Association of Minority Contractors (NYSAMC). “We must allow MWBEs and opportunity to help write the script and participate robustly in this New York State economy.”

Critics believe the current prevailing wage legislation has not addressed these concerns because it fails to require any public reporting of data with regard to who is actually getting prevailing wage jobs and who is being excluded.

While the vast majority of non-unionized workers are New Yorkers of color, there is little available data on the current levels of workforce diversity in many of the city’s largest building trade unions.

“For 400 years black and brown workers have faced discrimination at every step of the way,” said Divinah Bailey, Chief of Operations of the African American Clergy and Elected Officials, Inc. “We are standing here today to ensure that legislators have the data to evaluate if workers of color will benefit from prevailing wage legislation currently under consideration. It is extremely important that we ensure the voices of our communities of color are heard in this critical discussion.”

Kings County Politics reports “The New York State Building & Construction Trades Council refused to comment after repeated calls and emails, though a quick look at their Executive Board seems to show a lack of top-level diversity, according to the website.”

Groups such as the NNYSAMC and the New York Real Estate Chamber (NYREC) have also raised serious concerns that the legislation will disadvantage MWBEs and take potential projects out of the hands of black business owners, the published report says.

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