Proposed legislation that awaits passage in the Assembly would ensure SUNY prioritizes hiring in-state contractors and unionized workers after some recent large-scale projects on various campuses were awarded to out-of-state companies that employ cheaper, non-union labor.
Disgruntled New York construction workers pushed lawmakers hard this session to pass a measure to require SUNY campuses enter Project Labor Agreements for construction projects and upgrades $3 million or more, and give greater preference to New York companies and workers.
Andrew Barrios, a Long Island journeyman with Laborers Local 66, graduated from SUNY Plattsburgh and continues to pay back about $20,000 in loans.
"People from out of New York are coming into New York and working on SUNY campuses and keeping our local guys out of work," Barrios said. "I think I have the right to be able to work on the SUNY campuses that I'm paying off my debt to."
He said it's irresponsible for SUNY to award projects paid for by New York taxpayers to workers from out of state with less training.
"I question the quality of their safety regulations and of the certifications of out-of-state workers," Barrios added.
Labor advocates say SUNY has a tendency of awarding projects, such as new dorm rooms or facility upgrades, to the cheapest bidder — usually companies that pay their workers insufficient wages or without benefits. A $10 million bid for work at SUNY Stony Brook was recently awarded to an out-of-state contractor with a history of OSHA violations and had insufficient insurance and no workers' compensation in New York, said Rebecca Lamorte, legislative and communications coordinator with the Greater NY Labor Management Fund of the Mason Tenders' District Council.
"They're being subsidized by our taxpayer dollars because that's what funds SUNY construction," she said.
Representatives from SUNY did not return requests for comment Thursday.
Lamorte, who works for a union representing 17,000 downstate construction workers, said SUNY dismissed bids from their companies because they were several million dollars more expensive.
"So you see a number that's going to be higher than an unscrupulous contractor that's not going to have the same trained workforce, not going to have the same caliber of work and SUNY just sees a number," she said. "They don't see human lives, they don't see the New Yorkers in the balance, quite honestly."
Senators passed the measure, introduced this year, to change SUNY's labor agreement process before session ended last week. It's one of dozens of pieces of legislation that cleared the Senate, but not the Assembly, this session.
Assembly members have a chance to pass the bill when they return next week to address unfinished business.
Sponsor Assemblywoman Latoya Joyner, a Democrat from the Bronx, says she included the bill in a list of priorities to Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie in hopes he'll bring it to the floor for a vote.
"If it's public money and needs to benefit New Yorkers, we need to make sure we are truly investing in New York workforce, New York families and New York students," Joyner said Thursday. "That's the heart of this bill... That is the goal — making sure we're investing in New York companies, and the New York workforce is the top priority."
Several Assembly members on Thursday said they have not heard from Heastie about next week's agenda, and remain in the dark about what legislation will be voted on.
The measure has bipartisan support, said Joyner, who added she's confident the bill will be adopted next year if passage is impossible this year.
"We all share the goal of making sure we're putting forth legislation that is truly going to put New York families first, and this is one of the bills that I believe will be at the top of the agenda," she said.