Spin Cycle

News, views and commentary on Long Island, state and national politics.

ALBANY — A fiscally conservative think tank on Monday said the cost to taxpayers of government construction projects is inflated by 25 percent on average because state government requires that even non-union companies pay union wages on public works.

On Long Island, the Empire Center estimates that the cost of wages and benefits is increased 80 percent on public projects because the so-called prevailing wage must be paid even if nonunionized companies win public contracts, according to the study (http://bit.ly/2op8YMc).

Supporters of the prevailing wage, including Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, say the practice assures that public works provide living wages, which helps strengthen communities.

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“We make no apologies for supporting working men and women in New York and doing so while undertaking the largest rebuilding of this state’s infrastructure in history,” said Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi. He dismissed the report as flawed and coming from a right-wing think thank opposed to paying an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work.”

He said the report is flawed because nonunion companies aren’t required to adhere to union rules because only union work forces need to follow union rules. The study said “productivity-sapping union work rules” include requiring a highly paid engineer to push buttons on automated elevators used by other workers on a site.

“This is really an outmoded, problematic law and it adds significantly to construction costs,” said E.J. McMahon of the Empire Center. He said the 1894 law is based on providing union-level wages even though unionized workers are a shrinking segment of the work force. He recommends that union-level wages only be paid when half or more of a job is done by union workers. If that threshold isn’t met, the wages would be based on a wage common for that region.

McMahon said the law favors politically influential unions, which need public jobs to keep their foundering pension plans afloat “providing what amounts to a taxpayer-funded bailout.”