Workers on the job site (photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayoral Photo Office)
Recently, Patrick Purcell, Jr. of the New York State Laborers-Employers Cooperation & Education Trust and Assemblymember Karines Reyes authored an op-ed regarding the Roadway Excavation Quality Assurance Act (REQAA) and its potential to positively impact the environment, the economy, and the workforce. The piece -- “An Opportunity to Boost the Environment, Economy, and Workers” -- is concerning because the authors paint an inaccurate picture, hiding the hidden detail within the legislation, the use of Project Labor Agreements, that is at the center of what Mr. Purcell’s organization supports.
The full story paints a very different picture and will likely change the way readers feel about the REQAA. Mr. Purcell supports this policy and PLAs because they drive work to those he represents: a very small number of workers compared to the overall workforce in New York state.
He claims that the REQAA provides significant economic benefits and states that workers affected by this bill will “have the financial resources to patronize their hometown shops and restaurants.” This is where Mr. Purcell has left out important details.
The REQAA includes language within the bill that encourages the use of a Project Labor Agreement on these projects. A PLA is a pre-hire collective bargaining agreement that requires the hiring of union workers. The issue here is not the employment of union workers, but the required use of them instead of opening the projects up to the entirety of New York state’s construction workforce.
More than 70% of the construction industry workforce in our state is not affiliated with a union. They work for open shop contractors, the majority being small businesses. The REQAA Mr. Purcell is so fond of, includes language that discriminates against the vast majority of the state’s construction labor pool by not allowing their employers to use them on projects under these provisions.
How can any policy that stomps on businesses and prevents the majority of a workforce from working be good for the state’s economy? The authors of the op-ed omitted some very important details in pushing this legislation.
And, if it is not bad enough that the REQAA will bury businesses even deeper, consider this: when the labor pool is limited to less than 30% of the available workforce, but more workers are needed, they’ll be brought in from out of state. That doesn’t help a single worker or family in New York.
Additionally, the REQAA will ultimately hurt New York ratepayers who are already feeling the burden of some of the highest utility costs in recent years. Consumers will pay even more for utilities because, as studies show, the prevailing wage increases the cost of construction by up to 25%. It’s time for honesty: this is the reality when we force utility companies to pay more, they pass the added cost on to the ratepayers.
Instead of focusing on harmful policies, New York government should be figuring out how to cut costs for ratepayers. That can be done by lowering taxes we all have to pay on natural gas, broadband, cell phone service, electricity, and more.
Our elected officials have a responsibility to protect New Yorkers from harmful legislation while improving their quality of life. The REQAA does the opposite. It discriminates against most contractors in the state, prevents hundreds of thousands of workers and their families from benefiting from construction jobs their tax dollars are paying for, and it increases the cost of living in New York state. Our elected leaders should run far and wide from the REQAA.
Brian Sampson is president of The Empire State Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors, part of a national construction industry trade association established in 1950 and founded on the merit shop philosophy. On Twitter @abcempirestate.