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State Labor Department is here to help you, commissioner tells LI businesses

State Labor commissioner Roberta Reardon speaks to the

State Labor commissioner Roberta Reardon speaks to the Long Island Association Friday in Melville. Credit: Howard Schnapp

State Labor Department Commissioner Roberta Reardon wants to send a message to businesses: We are here to help you.

“Here in New York a strong business climate and a healthy environment for workers are not mutually exclusive,” Reardon told attendees at a breakfast hosted by the Long Island Association trade group in Melville on Friday.  

The Labor Department lends a hand to companies dealing with labor shortages by helping them to recruit workers and develop apprenticeship programs, she said. The department prescreened hundreds of workers who were hired for the rebuilding of the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, at no cost, she said.

Yet, many companies still see the department as just a “sheriff” who is not working on their behalf, Reardon said. She said she wanted to change that perception.  

“We believe in a system that is protective of workers, but is not overly punitive when an honest business makes an honest mistake,” she told the crowd of about 50 executives and others.

On the issue of minimum wage, she said that when the $15 minimum wage takes effect on Long Island in December 2021, the increase will affect some 380,000 workers and pump $2.4 billion back into the local economy.

In answer to a question on child care, she said the cost and lack of availability hurt women more but affect the overall workforce.

“We leave more highly qualified women on the bench because of the unavailability of child care,” said Reardon, who serves on a child care task force that will issue a report to the governor next year.  “We are in a labor crunch, and we have to have highly skilled workers available.”

Developers applying to build industrial parks will get points if they include a child care facility, she said.

On a controversial proposal to require more companies to pay the prevailing wage, she said a resolution would take time. A bill before the State Legislature would require private construction projects that receive government grants or tax breaks to pay the prevailing wage, which generally mirrors the pay of union members and often includes benefits.

Attendee Robert Coughlan, a principal at Tritec Real Estate Co., an East Setauket developer, said the bill in its current form would be “devastating” for Long Island.

“If they are going to do something, I would like to see some kind of regional carve-out,” he said. A carve-out should include an exemption or modification for Long Island, he said.

Hours later in Albany, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said the intense debate about expanding the prevailing wage means it probably won't be included the 2019-20 state budget, which is due April 1. "I don't believe it gets done by the budget because it's a heated debate," he told reporters. "I support prevailing wage and the expansion of prevailing wage." -- with James T. Madore

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