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NY Can’t Afford Non-Union Pt. 1: The Cost to Everyday New Yorkers


New York City relies on union quality, efficiency and productivity to run.

By Mark Colangelo

The widely held belief that non-union construction is cheaper than unionized construction is a myth. It is not true at the level of individual projects— studies prove union training and efficiency more than balances out higher union wages, resulting in total costs that are 4% lower. But more importantly, it is untrue at the level of society. Tactics used by non-union contractors— underpaying or misclassifying workers, cutting corners on materials, wage theft, eschewing investment in training programs, et cetera— may result in savings for the guys at the top, but the rest of us pay a steep price.

We’re taking a look at some of the many reasons New York can’t afford non-union.

1. The High Price of Cheap Construction

Non-union buildings put up on the cheap can lead to a cascade of expensive repair and maintenance costs down the line. Only won’t be the developer picking up the bill. When corners are cut on worker training and materials for construction projects, homeowners and taxpayers are left holding the bag when things start going wrong.


Non-union construction worker Christopher Jackson suffered traumatic brain injuries after a crane fell and dragged him several stories to the ground at an East Harlem work site. Credit: Via Manhattan DA’s Office

2. The Healthcare Hangover

Non-union construction contractors misclassify 20% or more of their employees as independent contractors, dodging the cost of providing health insurance. When these uninsured workers get sick or injured, the burden of taking care of them is shifted onto the everyday New Yorkers. This can overwhelm our healthcare system and increase costs for taxpayers.

"Savings" that developers realize by hiring supposedly cheaper non-union labor often create mammoth expenses that get pushed onto taxpayers.

3. Straining The Social Safety Net

Injured on the job without the benefit of paid leave, non-union workers are forced to resort to unemployment, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and other social safety net programs just to survive. This stretches thin resources even thinner and forces everyday New Yorker’s to subsidize the employees of non-union contractors.

4. Dangerous, Depreciating Assets

Owning a home should put everyday New Yorker’s on a path to financial security. But if non-union negligence ends up resulting in major issues—like a sinking foundation and structural instability— it may drastically, and permanently, devalue your home. Your path to financial security just turned into a road to financial ruin because a non-union contractor chose to save a few bucks on cement.


Mark Colangelo is a writer and a blogger.

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