Despite the global pandemic, New York’s construction industry remains one of the most robust in the world. With construction jobs anticipated to grow by the tens of thousands over the next few years, the construction industry provides an opportunity for thousands of New Yorkers to obtain good jobs and reach the middle class. With this in mind, REBNY continues to work collaboratively with the Building and Construction Trades Council (BCTC), Building Trades Employers Association (BTEA), New York Building Congress, and others to highlight the importance of the construction and development industries for the future of New York City’s economy. Last year, REBNY, BCTC and BTEA advanced a critical agreement that provided the framework needed to remobilize construction and create good jobs for all workers in this industry.
All workers are entitled to the protections of the law. REBNY also believes strongly in ensuring that all opportunities in construction are safe and fair - basic principles particularly important to uphold for vulnerable workers who have been formerly incarcerated or otherwise have been historically disenfranchised. While the New York construction industry can provide high-quality careers for thousands of New Yorkers, it is critical that effective protections against issues such as wage theft and unsafe working conditions are in place.
As with many industries, wage theft, unsafe conditions, and other issues have been documented in the construction industry. Among other instances of these practices, this includes allegations that so-called ‘body shops’ prey on socioeconomically vulnerable workers including people of color and particularly formerly incarcerated individuals who are required to maintain employment as a requirement of their parole and therefore may be less able to come forward with allegations of labor abuses.
Addressing these issues certainly merits the attention and action of policymakers. To that end, REBNY recommends that the Council consider the following proposals:
First, as the Council deliberates the FY2022 budget, it should consider increasing funding to support the Department of Consumer Affairs and Worker Protection and other agencies to better protect justice-involved and other vulnerable workers from wage theft and other unsafe or illegal practices. If allegations of companies working as ‘body shops’ are found to be true, the strongest steps should be taken to ensure that those workers are afforded the full protections of the law.
Furthermore, it would behoove the Council to consider proactive opportunities to grow the construction industry as an avenue for a more just and equitable workforce. REBNY recognizes that private-sector union construction is essential to the development of New York City, and our members account for most of union construction contracts. However, it is not practicable to contract union work for the entirety of all jobs. Moreover, because of practical constraints to union membership, there is a sizable pool of workers looking for jobs in construction that need to find alternative paths to employment, some of which could provide the experience needed to ultimately join labor unions.
The Council should consider legislation that would create an elevated minimum wage with benefits for construction projects that receive government assistance. Under this model, if a site receives government assistance, workers on the site would be guaranteed to be paid a wage and benefit that exceeds the minimum wage. Such a policy should also include local hiring requirements as well as reporting and disclosure requirements to provide transparency into who is working on the job site.
Finally, the Council should also consider partnering with non-for-profit organizations who are effectively bringing more individuals into the construction workforce, both union and non-union. REBNY is proud to partner with our sister organization, Building Skills New York, to do just that. Building Skills’ mission is to provide an efficient and convenient process for finding a construction job for New Yorkers, particularly those who are formerly incarcerated or from communities of color, who historically have been unable to gain access to careers in the construction industry. Building Skills then focuses on job retention and job continuity for the workers it serves. Through this model, workers can also acquire advanced construction skills which can lead to broader career pathways and expanded opportunities with higher compensation levels, both through union and non-union trajectories. With the adverse effects of the pandemic still lingering, partnering with organizations like Building Skills could provide opportunities for thousands of New Yorkers.