By Sam Capitano
New York’s working class cannot thrive when public subsidies for developers don’t come with public responsibilities.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s inclusion of prevailing wage requirements on subsidized projects in his budget address shows he understands that successful development is both profitable and responsible. Meeting workers’ needs ultimately benefits developers, taxpayers and the state’s economy. That’s why Albany must pass public works legislation before April 1.
Certain business groups say public works should proceed without accountability to the taxpayers that subsidize these projects or the workers on these sites daily. In a recent Buffalo News recent article, “Business groups say Cuomo’s prevailing wage plan a ‘death sentence’ for development,” Unshackle Upstate is quoted stating that expanding prevailing wage requirements would “severely weaken our economy and hurt taxpayers,” by increasing construction costs, declaring such standards for workers “a death sentence for upstate economic development.”
While phrases like “death sentence for upstate economic development” attract attention, they do not reflect reality. Prevailing wage requirements and modernized public works legislation would actually boost the state’s economy, generating $3.5 million to $6.9 million in annual sales tax revenue. This additional revenue could fund further responsible development instead of stockpiling into developers’ back pockets.
Misinformed narratives reflect a simplistic understanding of what makes development successful. Successful development projects are responsible projects that establish standards of accountability for paying workers fair, livable wages and efficiently utilizing subsidies to create stable job opportunities.
Buffalo Laborers’ Local 210, the union I represent, exemplifies the positive outcomes that result from fair relationships between workers and developers. Our members earn family-sustaining wages, receive good health care coverage and benefits, and are able to work and retire with dignity. They don’t have to choose which monthly bills to pay or fear being bankrupted by one expensive hospital visit.
Thanks to this stability, our members have helped successfully complete nearly all major construction projects in Erie County, on time and under budget.
The expanded prevailing wage requirements Cuomo proposed would be a positive force for development in New York. Now, it is up to Albany to pass public works legislation before April 1. New York has the opportunity to close the loopholes that enable developers to deprive workers and cheat taxpayers.
Sam Capitano is business manager for Laborers Local 210 in Buffalo.