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New York City, Trades Unions Sign Agreement To Increase Diversity On City Construction Jobs

Buildings and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York President Gary LaBarbera and Mayor Bill de Blasio elbow bump after a press conference announcing the project labor agreement.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio reached an agreement with construction trades unions in the city, which is set to increase the number of low-income construction workers on city jobs.

The new project labor agreement, announced at a press conference Thursday, outlines goals to increase income diversity on city construction projects that use union labor. Under the agreement, unions have committed to refer workers who live in low-income ZIP codes and New York City Housing Authority buildings and to increase apprenticeship admissions from these areas. 

“For years, New York’s union building trades have prioritized expanding access, equity and opportunity in neighborhoods across the city,” Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York President Gary LaBarbera said. “We look forward to building on that commitment and working directly with the administration to ensure that all New Yorkers —  especially those in underserved communities —  have access not only to our exceptional union apprenticeship and direct-entry programs but also to the tens of thousands of middle-class careers that this agreement will create.”

Under the new guidelines, New York City labor unions will increase job referrals for workers who live in neighborhoods where 15% of the population lives under the poverty line — which is $12,490 for a single person and $25,750 for a family of four, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The agreement aims to devote 30% of overall hours worked on city jobs to these workers, according to the BCTC. 

The agreement also seeks to increase opportunities for women and minority-owned businesses on city projects. The BCTC is affiliated with local chapters of national building trades unions such as the United Brotherhood of Carpenters, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. 

This comes as construction jobs have taken a major hit amid the coronavirus. Employment in construction dropped 35% year-over-year in May and some predict that 2% or more of construction jobs may never come back. 

In addition to the labor agreement, de Blasio also announced a piece of hiring legislation he plans to submit to the state legislature, which would “require that businesses that get City government support must hire from communities of color, must hire from communities that have been disadvantaged.” 

“This is direct redistribution, making sure money gets in the hands of folks who have done so much of the work, created so much of the wealth, but rarely benefited from it,” de Blasio said at Thursday’s press conference. “We need to pass this community hiring bill in Albany. If we're serious about addressing disparities, if we're serious about learning the lesson of the coronavirus crisis, we need to pass this bill so we can move forward.” 

The legislation has support from several state senators and representatives who represent poor and working-class communities throughout the city. 

“Community hiring is an excellent way to ensure that low-income New Yorkers, who have suffered long-term unemployment and have traditionally been overlooked in many career fields, as well as those who have lost their jobs due to coronavirus get back to work, by providing stable, good-paying positions in the construction field,” said state Sen. James Sanders Jr., who represents parts of Queens, including Jamaica.

State Sen. Robert Jackson, who represents parts of Northern Manhattan, said legislation like this around job creation and hiring is essential for the city to make a comeback. 

"Community hiring needs to be an essential part of our economic recovery from COVID-19, especially in hard-hit neighborhoods," Jackson said.