Nearly three weeks ago, a bill that would expand wage requirements for various types of workers statewide passed in the state Senate without a tremendous amount of controversy. The powerful building service workers’ union, SEIU 32BJ, was its main backer, and had a small battle of ads with utility companies. But the bill passed through the Senate, where it was sponsored by Senator Eric Schneiderman, without much of a fuss.
But now, after a belated–but fiery–blowback by business groups in the city and the rest of the state who charged the legislation would have disastrous effects statewide, the bill is being scaled back. Members of the real estate industry were incensed, and business groups pushed hard in the Assembly, which had yet to pass its version of the bill, to undo some of what was done in the Senate.
Assemblyman Mike Gianaris, the sponsor of companion legislation in the Assembly, said he had agreed to cut out the most controversial element: a requirement that Business Improvement Districts (which provide services such as street beautification for neighborhoods) pay their service employees prevailing wages that might be multiples of their existing pay.
And this seems as though it would fly in the Senate: 32BJ officials have said they will not oppose removing the BIDs from the Senate legislation in an effort to see the rest of the bill passed, according to people familiar with discussions.
“The bids made a very compelling case as to why the bill would have created hardship for them,” Gianaris said Friday. “The intent was never to hinder the BIDs from providing the services they provide.”
Even without the BID piece, the bill is far-reaching, a testament to the influence of the union.
The primarily element that the union has sought to highlight is that it expands prevailing wages to subcontractors of public utilities, requiring that employee pay for jobs such as janitors and doormen is at a prevailing rate (set locally, but typically well above minimum wage).
But it also expands the definition of “building service worker” to a new set of professions, requiring that governments statewide start paying waiters, drivers, cooks, and dishwashers at prevailing wages. It also makes it a felony for those who do not do this (this is already the law for construction contracts).
In a statement, 32BJ secretary-treasurer Hector Figueroa did not criticize the paring back, and called on the Legislature to pass the legislation.
“Con Ed and other public utilities are using a loophole in the law to keep hard-working New Yorkers in poverty while they rake in billions,” he said. “Assembly Members should stand up for tax-payers and workers by passing a bill that closes this loophole and enables workers to support their families without tapping costly public assistance programs.”