A leading opponent of construction unions is demanding that City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley return union campaign contributions, saying she is pushing a bill that would directly benefit her donors.
In an email Crowley recently sent to her colleagues in the Council, she wrote that Mayor Bill de Blasio’s housing proposals do not address construction worker wages.
“The City can certainly attach wage requirements to these projects that receive financial assistance,” Crowley wrote in the email, obtained by POLITICO New York. “In evaluating their plan, we should not only be thinking about the size and appearance of buildings, but should make sure that rezonings create safe, quality jobs for our communities.”
Brian Sampson, president of the state chapter of the Association of Builders and Contractors, is accusing Crowley, a former member of a painters union, of pushing the bill only to benefit her campaign donors.
“Over the course of your 15-year political career, you have received a combined total of more than $30,000 in campaign contributions from DC9 and its members, the Building Trades Council and the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT), which is the parent organization of DC9 and other local painters’ unions,” Sampson wrote in a Feb. 18 letter he provided to POLITICO New York. “The vast majority of those contributions have come within the past seven years.”
Administration officials have publicly argued that a zoning text amendment, which is what the mayor is proposing the Council consider this month, could not legally include wage requirements. Zoning text changes must relate specifically to zoning rules, planning chairman Carl Weisbrod and housing commissioner Vicki Been have said.
Last year Crowley introduced legislation that would expand prevailing wage requirements for construction projects receiving more than $1 million in city subsidies, irrespective of the mayor’s two proposed zoning amendments.
Sampson said Crowley’s legislation is “poor optics and strongly suggests that you are doing the bidding of unions that contribute heavily to your campaigns.”
In an interview with POLITICO New York, Crowley pointed out that she routinely discloses her ties to the union and her past work in the construction field and that the contributions amount to a fraction of her total campaign account since she was elected to the Council in 2009.
“Over the years I have been in government I have raised over a million dollars. This is less than 3 percent, closer to 2 percent, over that time,” Crowley said. “I also have never hid the fact that I am a card-carrying member of DC9.”
Crowley, who worked as a painter and restorer before running for the City Council, said her experience on construction sites showed her the importance of safety and training.
“I was lucky enough to work on a construction site and over the years I realized how important it was to have unions represented in government. The federal government requires it, the state requires it and the city requires it when it is funding the construction,” she said.
Crowley is emphasizing the bill now that the Council is set to vote on the mayor’s housing plans later this month, but she said that DC9 was not involved in any stage of the bill writing.
“No union was involved in my decision to propose and draft the bill,” she said, adding that the criticism directed at her is “just a short-sighted suggestion of special interests involved in pushing an agenda that supports substandard wages.”
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