Affordable Housing: No Unions Need Apply

One group that is definitely not happy with the de Blasio affordable housing program is the city’s construction unions. The plan does not require affordable-housing developers to pay union-scale wages. 

“Building and preserving more affordable housing is critical to reducing income inequality, as well as making sure that these New Yorkers are paid a fair wage,” Gary LaBarbera, president of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, said in an email. The unions “remain steadfast in our belief that all workers building affordable housing deserve good wages with benefits.”

“The people who build these houses won’t be able to afford to live in them,” says John Skinner, president of Metallic Lathers and Reinforcing Ironworkers Local 46.

Affordable-housing construction is almost completely nonunion. Building-trades union officials and organizers say some contractors are among the most abusive in the industry, regularly cheating their workers out of pay. Wages are typically $10 to $20 an hour, says Skinner, and some contractors don’t train their workers well and “don’t care about safety.” Of the 17 construction workers killed in workplace accidents in the city last year, 16 were on nonunion sites. “Why is there not massive outrage?” Skinner asks.

The de Blasio administration originally argued that paying union-scale wages would reduce the amount of affordable units it could build. Now it says that it can’t use zoning regulations “to address labor rules.” 

That’s nonsense, says Skinner. The housing built is receiving public subsidies, so “they can require prevailing wage.”

HPD says the law is that zoning can be used only to regulate things like height, bulk, and land use.