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NY AFL-CIO Pres. Defends Building Trades: 421-a Fight is About “High Standards, Better Quality”


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New York City’s controversial 421-a tax abatement program, which governs many affordable housing construction projects, was updated in the summer of 2015 with the understanding that the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY) and the Greater New York Building and Construction Trades Council (BCTC) would settle on wage rates for the projects by mid-January of 2016.  The deadline passed without agreement, and the program expired.  Now, in an op-ed for Crain’s New York, “attorney, lobbyist and communications specialist” Brad Gerstman blamed the breakdown in negotiations on unions, claiming that they were only fighting for their own interests, their worker safety rallies were “fundamentally dishonest,” and their concern over workplace fatalities is nothing but “lachrymose ranting”:

The construction incentive program called 421-a was suffocated last month by a uniquely self-serving special interest…

…But that kind of program won’t be created as long as the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, and its president Gary LaBarbera, continue with their myopic and selfish pleading to restrict tax breaks exclusively to companies that are using his union workers.

In response to the Gerstman op-ed, the President of the New York State AFL-CIO, Mario Cilento, defended the BCTC. He argues that Gerstman’s arguments were “disingenuous at best.”  Cilento says Gerstman’s claim that the union’s desired “special treatment” shows his misunderstanding of the union message.  From his response:

The fact of the matter is, Gerstman seeks to draw down standards in the construction industry, while LaBarbera insists on the high standards, better quality and good working conditions that come with union protections, particularly at a time when lax standards at nonunion construction sites have resulted in unsafe conditions that have had deadly results.

Simply put, if wealthy developers want to take advantage of tax breaks in the form of 421-a, then they have an obligation to give something back to taxpayers—affordable housing and strong middle-class jobs. And by the way, ensuring the safety of the men and women who work on those projects should also be a priority. It certainly is for the labor movement.

The issue could be taken up by the state legislature this year, but experts believe the election will make all parties hesitant to revisit it. 


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