In a new wrinkle to a larger legislative dispute that has festered for months, building-service powerhouse 32BJ SEIU has filed a complaint with New York City Comptroller John Liu alleging that the Union Square Partnership business improvement district is covered by existing prevailing wage law and has been underpaying workers by more than $14 an hour, according to Crain's new york business.
The union says it bases its argument on interviews with workers and a copy of the BID's contract with the city, which it obtained via a Freedom of Information Law request. It has requested contracts of BIDs across the city to evaluate whether they too might be in violation of the prevailing wage law.
In the complaint, the union alleges workers employed by BID subcontractor Atlantic Maintenance Corp. are paid as little as $7.41 per hour. The hourly prevailing wage for office cleaners in the city is $21.80, plus $8.36 in benefits; for security officers, it's $11.75, plus $4.46 in benefits.
“Well-funded BIDs have no financial reason for cutting costs on the backs of working New Yorkers,” said a 32BJ spokeswoman. “And some may be violating the law that prohibits tax dollars from being used to finance poverty-like jobs.”
Dan Biederman, chairman of the BID Association, an umbrella group representing the city's 64 BIDs, said the complaint is the latest in a series of “ongoing lobbying efforts” by 32BJ surrounding a prevailing wage bill under consideration in Albany that would end exemptions for public utilities.
A spokesman for the Union Square Partnership said in a statement that the BID's sanitation workers are represented by Amalgamated Industrial and Toy and Novelty Workers Local 223 and that a new contract went into effect July 1. “Atlantic Maintenance negotiated a comprehensive, fair and mutually agreed upon compensation package through a collective bargaining process that includes wages ranging from $8 to $14 per hour, paid vacation, and health coverage,” he said.
A spokeswoman for Mr. Liu had no comment.
The complaint is likely a pressure tactic by the union to get the BIDs to drop their opposition to the bill as the legislature heads back into session this afternoon. The measure would extend state prevailing wage laws to contracted building service workers at public utility companies like Con Edison and National Grid.
In addition to the BIDs, utility companies like ConEd have forcefully campaigned against the bill, arguing it would mean rate hikes for customers. ConEd is a member of the Union Square Partnership. It funds the group's website and sponsors its annual Harvest in the Square and Summer in the Square events. The utility giant's secretary is treasurer of the partnership's local development corporation, and its director of corporate communications sits on the BID's board.
A ConEd spokesman said the BIDs' opposition is independent from the utility's. “They have their own issues,” he said.