Governor’s promise at the North American Building Trades Union’s conference to use union building workers is pure cronyism.
By Brian Sampson
Late last month, Gov. Andrew Cuomo made it clear that he cares more about political connections than empowering workers in New York. This should be deeply concerning for taxpayers and for those who want to create more middle-class jobs throughout the state.
As keynote speaker at the North America Building Trades Union’s legislative conference in Washington, D.C., Cuomo stated, “Every project we build is going to be built with organized labor.” He declared that he would not sign any bills that could be viewed as inequitable to union workers. He has essentially delegated his veto power to representatives from an organization that donated large sums to his campaign. These individuals are Gary LaBarbera, the president of the New York City Building and Construction Trades Council, and James Cahill, the statewide president of the organization. Yes, the governor has clearly stated his intent to usurp state bidding laws and just give all of the work to his campaign donors.
His speech was reminiscent of another powerful New Yorker’s from years past: Boss Tweed.
Tweed is chiefly remembered—and sometimes romanticized—for the cronyism of his Tammany Hall political machine, through which he bilked the city of New York of massive sums of money. If Cuomo follows through with his ill-advised plan, he, too, will be remembered for wasting the hard-earned money of the taxpayers of New York state, discriminating against tens of thousands of merit-shop construction workers and shutting down the building of desperately needed affordable housing.
The governor made it very clear that he does not support construction workers who have decided that being beholden to a union is not right for them. So, who are the men and women he’s demonizing and so determined to work against? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, roughly 75% of the state’s construction workforce does not belong to a union. Cuomo is willing to steamroller tens of thousands of men and women, taking away their opportunity to work on any state projects, simply because they did not contribute to his campaigns.
The fact that the governor is willing to subvert bidding laws and decrease competition is deeply troubling. He and his staff, along with the state agencies he controls, will exercise costly project labor agreements (PLAs) backed by flawed economic studies to justify the gift he is giving to organized labor. When we file Freedom of Information Law requests to see these studies, they arrive loaded with black boxes of redacted information. And if these PLAs are so wonderful, why does the state never conduct a post-project study to ensure the alleged savings were realized?
But what’s now very clear is that going forward, every mandated study on the feasibility of a PLA, or any study that Cuomo’s administration conducts related to this topic, will be tainted by his comments and his predilection to give business to the unions he seeks to appease.
The governor is making a mockery of competitive-bidding laws. His blind loyalty to big union bosses is irresponsible. Further, it’s killing affordable housing and good jobs, both of which are desperately needed in New York.
Government was never meant to pick winners and losers. That isn’t why America was founded. The governor should be doing everything in his power to go in a direction that creates fair, open and transparent bidding. Instead he’s doing the opposite, and it will cost us all dearly.
Brian Sampson is the president of the Associated Builders and Contractors, Empire State Chapter, which represents more than 400 members in the state’s construction industry.