Our Position on NYS’ Prevailing Wage and Scaffold Law – 2018 Advocacy Defined Series

Construction Workers on ScaffoldNew York State is home to some of the highest construction costs in the country.  The state’s prevailing wage and scaffold laws are two reasons why.  That is why the Buffalo Niagara Partnership calls for Scaffold Law reform and opposition to the expansion of prevailing wage in our 2018 Advocacy Agenda.

The Partnership – along with the state’s leading business and industry groups – is firmly opposed to expanding the state’s current prevailing wage mandate to include private development projects receiving some form of public financial support.  We recently detailed our opposition in a letter to Governor Cuomo and members of the New York State Legislature.  As we have written here before, New York’s prevailing wage mandate drives up the cost of public construction projects in the Buffalo area by 20 percent according to the Empire Center’s report Prevailing Waste: New York’s Costly Public Works Mandate.

Prevailing Waste: New York's Costly Public Works Pay Mandate

Given Upstate New York’s weak business climate, most private development projects do not materialize without some form of public support such as an incentive from a local Industrial Development Agency.  Expanding the prevailing wage mandate to include these kinds of projects will be a death blow to private investment in Upstate.  Most of these projects can already be described as break-even and the dramatic increase in total project costs will dramatically overtake the value of any incentive turning the whole project financially upside down.

Reform of the state’s Scaffold Law has been a perennial advocacy priority for the Partnership.  This year it takes on a renewed focus because Scaffold Law reform has been discussed as a possible trade-off to the expansion of prevailing wage.  New York is the only state in the nation operating under an outdated Scaffold Law unfairly holding property owners, employers and contractors absolutely liable for injuries when a worker falls on a construction site.  Under the current law, any contributing fault of the worker – even gross negligence, intoxication or refusal to use safety equipment – cannot be considered in court.

The cost of this absurdity is staggering.  The Scaffold Law costs New York taxpayers $785 million and private business $1.4 billion every year according to a study by the Rockefeller Institute.  The Partnership fully supports reforming the existing law to a comparative negligence standard – one that exists in every state except New York – but not at the expense of expanding prevailing wage.  Such an expansion would place such a drain on local development and construction, any savings achieved from reform of the Scaffold Law will be inconsequential.

2018 Advocacy Defined Blog Series Table of Contents:

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About Grant Loomis

Vice President, Government Affairs