421a Real Estate Tax Abatement Reauthorization
The 421a Real Estate Tax Abatement reauthorization became one of the hot-button issues of this year’s legislative session in Albany. 421a is a program under which developers do not have to pay real estate taxes for a period of 15 or 25-years, with no strings attached. It was begun in the early ‘70s when crime and the economy made New York City a much less desirable place to build. It has been renewed time and time again over the decades with only minor changes. The Laborers (in conjunction with the Carpenters) undertook a campaign with the premise that the tax abatement represented a public subsidy and so prevailing wage laws should apply.
We negotiated, we lobbied, and, as the long, bitterly cold weeks of winter slipped slowly into springtime, with the help of hundreds of Local 79 members, our concerns were addressed. We were strongly opposed by both Mayor de Blasio and the real estate industry. While we didn’t get an outright attachment of prevailing wages, in the last days of the legislative session a bill was crafted that forces negotiations between the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY) and the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York on 421a. No agreement was reached, so at least for the present the 421a program has ceased to exist. This virtually guarantees that prevailing wages will be required in some way, shape or form on 421a projects if the 421a program is going to continue.
We want to thank our legislative champions on this: Governor Andrew Cuomo; Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie of the Bronx; Assemblyman Marcus Crespo of the Bronx; Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan of Long Island; and Senator Marty Golden of Brooklyn.
And a big shout out to the busload of Local 79 Apprentices who came to Albany on short notice to participate in a press conference that was one of the turning points of the campaign…we couldn’t have done it without you!!
Comprehensive Immigration Reform
Comprehensive immigration reform is a priority of the Laborers, whether it be LiUNA headquarters, Local 79 in New York City, or your PAC. Some may ask why?
First and foremost, it’s the right thing to do. Many immigrants came to this country in search of economic opportunities, just as many of our parents, grandparents, and great grandparents did in generations past. The current generation of immigrants is no different.
Second, all work has dignity, be you a Laborer, a janitor, a nurse, a teacher, a doctor, or a lawyer. And all workers deserve respect at work. Without immigration reform, workers are simply denied that respect.
Third, immigration causes a great economic impact on all of us. You may be surprised to learn that the impact is not that immigrants are a drain on society. In fact, studies show just the opposite—that immigrant workers pay a great deal more into the government than they ever draw out. No, the economic impact on us is the lowering of wages and work standards. This occurs because without comprehensive immigration reform immigrant workers are an exploitable class. When forced to live in the shadows, a worker will reluctantly accept any job at any wage that is offered. This creates a downward pressure on all wages and conditions, including ours.
Some might say the answer to this problem is not reform but deportation, but this solution is neither fair nor realistic. To begin with, it flies in the face of points one and two above. Further, and more telling, it will never happen. There are an estimated 11.7 million undocumented persons in the United States today. And big business and other “powers-that-be” like it that way. They have an enormous workforce to whom they can pay substandard wages, no benefits and treat poorly. For all of the bad actors in America, all the way from Walmart down to the rat contractor around the corner, that’s how they like it. A large, readily exploitable workforce that has to take whatever they are offered.
The solution is to legitimize these workers. Bring them out of the shadows and make them an unexploitable class, workers who can’t be taken advantage of by contractors. And who are the least exploitable workers in America? Union members! Comprehensive immigration reform calls for undocumented workers to receive amnesty (after paying an appropriate penalty) and a path to citizenship. Once legitimized, low wages, no benefits and dangerous conditions will no longer be the order of the day, and our unionized contractors will no longer face stiff competition from the non-union sector, who because of their exploited workforce, can underbid us on every job.