Union releases legal memo in debate over limits of New York City zoning
A construction union trade group that wants the de Blasio administration to include new hiring and training requirements as part of its rezoning efforts is doubling down on its argument.
The Greater New York Laborers-Employers Cooperation and Education Trust released a memo this week from attorney Albert Butzel arguing that there is legal precedent in New York and other states for zoning that aims to provide jobs to local residents or includes living wage provisions.
The latest move comes after New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration dismissed construction unions’ calls for the inclusion of training and hiring provisions in the city’s rezoning proposals, saying that the job standards are beyond the legal scope of the zoning code.
Pat Purcell, the executive director of Greater New York LECET, has said he understands the city’s zoning code cannot require pay or benefit provisions, but he contends it could include training and hiring provisions meant to safeguard communities. His organization is pushing the city to adopt a Floor Area Affordability Bonus program, which would let developers build the largest residences permitted if half of the homes created are affordable to current neighborhood residences, 30 percent of construction jobs are reserved for city residents and a state-approved apprenticeship training program is offered. Purcell said the training programs would have come with stronger safety standards and oversight. He added that they have been used by both union and nonunion groups, so he claimed that this provision would not give organized labor an unfair advantage in securing contracts.
“The city must incorporate provisions for deeper affordability as well as proper training and safety standards for the construction workers that will be tasked with executing the mayor’s vision,” Purcell said in a statement. “Sixteen construction workers tragically died in 2015. This is an epidemic, but City Hall continues to hide behind false legal claims to justify its dangerous stance against worker safety standards. This not only ignores legal precedent, it ignores common sense.”
According to the administration, courts have found some local hiring provisions run afoul of the constitution’s privileges and immunities clause because they treat citizens from other states and localities in a discriminatory manner. Additionally, other zoning provisions requested - such as wage requirements, labor standards and clauses granting equal access to amenities for residents of market-rate and affordable units - also raise concerns under state and federal constitutional limits on regulations that discriminate against residents of other localities and states, according to the administration.
The administration also argues that wage and labor standards are legally suspect because they do not fall clearly within the city’s state-authorized zoning powers. And provisions that effectively mandate union labor may be prohibited under clauses that limit municipalities’ ability to impose regulations deemed “anti-competitive” through zoning, the administration noted.
De Blasio spokesman Wiley Norvell said the administration shares the goal of supporting good jobs, but does not believe the zoning code could be used to advance this issue.
“We support good jobs at every opportunity, including in our affordable housing,” Norvell said in a statement. “But the law is clear: these requirements cannot legally be put into zoning text. Doing so would mean no mandatory affordable housing at all, and luxury buildings could continue to rise across our city without a single required affordable apartment in them.”
You can read the Greater New York LECET memo from attorney Albert Butzel below: