Building Trades, Features, headline, Law and Politics, New York

Construction Workers Call BS on Bronx Senator’s Prevailing Wage Stance

October 6, 2019

By Joe Maniscalco

NYC construction workers march on State Sen. Luis Sepúlveda’s office urging him to support prevailing wage legislation.

New York, NY – The coalition of NYC Building Trades and nonunion construction workers pushing new legislation ensuring good middle-class jobs throughout the booming construction industry continues to call BS on a Bronx state senator opposing the effort. 

State Senator Luis Sepúlveda [D-32nd District] says he opposes prevailing wage legislation aimed at lifting the salaries of thousands of construction workers on tax-payer-backed projects because he is “concerned about the lack of representation of working-class people of color within the trade unions and public works projects.”

“Particularly among the leadership, which do not reflect the demographics of my community,” Sepúlveda said in a statement sent to LaborPress last week, adding a “flawed prevailing wage bill has the potential to make local hiring even more difficult and put MWBE’s [Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprises] at a greater disadvantage.”

That stance, however has elicited stern rebukes from construction workers who insist that Sepúlveda is “misguided” and wrong about a lack of diversity in the Building Trades, and that prevailing wage legislation in the construction industry will benefit many immigrants and people of color living in his district and throughout the Bronx. 

Steve Andujar, a business agent for Laborer’s Local 79 and proud Borinquen  with roots in the Bronx that go back nearly a half century, says he is a member of a “diverse and inclusive union family” that is only becoming more so with each passing year, and that “nonunion and union Bronx construction workers know that prevailing wages must be part of any progressive economic agenda focused on empowering working-class immigrants and people of color.”

Members of Laborer’s Local 79 joined with nonunion construction workers in a vociferous march on Sepúlveda’s E. 163rd office on Wednesday, October 2, urging him to back prevailing wage legislation [A1261/ S1947]. 

“The public works legislation we support would raise wages for thousands of construction workers – many of whom are working-class immigrants and people of color living and working in State Senator Luis Sepúlveda’s district,” Andujar said in a statement. “As a champion of immigrants, State Senator Sepúlveda should know that raising wages for construction jobs will help many immigrant residents in his district who do difficult, and often dangerous, work of building the future of the Bronx. Many big development projects in the Bronx will continue to receive taxpayer support in the form of subsidies or abatements. It’s fair and reasonable to expect that these projects will create good-paying jobs for the many immigrants and people of color who build them. The public works bill would help create thousands of good-paying jobs in the Bronx in the coming years.”

Critics of State Sen. Sepúlveda say he is siding with the real estate industry against workers.

New York’s powerful real estate industry is strongly lined up against prevailing wage legislation in both the Assembly and Senate, with the Business Council of New York State, the state’s leading statewide business and industry association, writing earlier this year that “The result of this legislation would be to significantly increase the labor costs, and therefore the overall project costs, of all projects subject to this new wage mandate.” 

“In this important fight for higher wages for construction workers, State Senator Sepúlveda can either stand with the diverse working-class communities of his district or with the wealthy developers trying to get rid of us,” Laborers’ Local 79 rank-and-file member and Bronx resident Tafadar Sourov said in a statement. “He can’t do both. Sepúlveda should use his power to help raise wages for the many immigrants, people of color, and women who are ready to build the future of the Bronx.”

Proponents of prevailing wage legislation insist that a piggish real estate industry has successfully gamed the system in New York, allowing it to shortchange workers, while exploiting loopholes to gorges itself on $30 to $50 billion in tax abatements and subsides attached to public works projects. 

Mike Hellstorm, Mason Tenders District Council assistant business manger, called out Sepúlveda as an obstructionist and faux-progressive who got into office on Bernie Sanders’ coattails, but now sides with the real estate industry. 

“When he talks about us not being black and brown enough, we think that the only color he looks at is green,” Hellstrom told LaborPress. “When he’s getting his contributions from the real estate community, he has no problem taking up their talking points and pitting worker against worker. This is not a leadership question of whether the Building Trades are black or brown enough because this is not a Building Trades question — this is a worker question. Are we going to economically empower workers or are we going to continue to allow workers to be exploited on public works projects?”

Sepúlveda says that he supports “the concept of implementing a prevailing wage.” 

“However,” he said in a statement, “it is our responsibility as legislators to have a nuanced discussion about the potential impacts of this policy, just as we do for every piece of legislation in the New York State Senate.”

October 6, 2019

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.