top of page

NY Can’t Afford Non-Union Pt. 3: The Unfair Cost To Unions


New York City’s construction unions have the deck stacked against them, but you can rest assured they will keep fighting.

There is a steep price to be paid when non-union contractors cut corners and use underhanded tactics to save money. And we’re all paying it. The last two installments of this series outlined how non-union workers are deprived of benefits, have their wages stolen and suffer unnecessary death. And how everyday taxpayers are getting fleeced. But another party also suffers: New York City’s construction unions.

We’re diving into some of the ways powerful anti-union interests work to undermine unions.

Artificially Lowering Bids

The most direct way non-union contractors undercut unions is by artificially lowering their bids to win contracts. Misclassifying employees as independent contractors is one of their go-to tactics for doing this. It allows unscrupulous employers to side step payroll taxes, healthcare benefits and other costs associated with full-time employees, lowering their labor costs. But it is not actually cheaper; the costs end up being passed along to everyone else.

Union Busting

Many employers who claim to have no money for raises or benefits spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year on union-busting consultants. These consultants deploy a mix of misinformation and scare tactics to foster distrust and fear among workers. They will hold captive audience meetings, turn supervisors into spies for upper-management, and even fire employees who attempt to organize.

Spreading Misinformation

Beyond the direct assault on union organizing, there's a broader campaign of misinformation aimed at painting unions as obstructive and costly. Through carefully crafted PR messaging, monied interests have, for decades, spread the myth that unions are harmful and unnecessary.

The resurgence of support for unions seen in recent years is a hopeful sign that the public has finally had enough; America is waking up to the fact that unions are a necessary counterbalance to interests of the rich and powerful.

Our concluding essay in a 3-part series on why New York can no longer afford non-union. The nefarious practices of many non-union contractors unfairly takes money, projects, and jobs away from unions.

Breaking The Law

Non-union contractors exploit legal and regulatory loopholes and some flat out break the law to reduce costs. This includes wage theft and ignoring labor standards that unions fight hard to uphold, like overtime pay, rest breaks, and safety standards. By flouting the law, non-union companies can operate at lower costs, undercutting unions


Some of the money saved through shady non-union practices gets funneled into political donations and hiring lobbyists and special interest groups. Organizations like the Associated Builders and Contractors work to craft legislation that tilts the playing field against unions. The most recent example of this can be seen in the battle over a replacement for the 421a tax abatement, which gives big tax breaks to real estate developers whose projects meet certain criteria around wages and affordable housing. Influential developers and their allies in the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY) are lobbying to pass a replacement with a wage floor well below the current prevailing wage, a non-starter for New York’s construction unions.

The costs of non-union construction ripple across New York, and we are all paying a price. Workers should not have to go on being denied safe working conditions, fair pay and benefits. Taxpayers should not have to pay more so big developers can line their pockets. Unions should not be punished for upholding fair labor standards. New York can't afford the true cost of non-union labor.


Mark Colangelo is a writer and blogger.

Get Our Monthly Newsletter

Stay up to date on what's happening in New York construction. Our news comes from major media publishers, real estate and construction trade insiders, and the people involved in the industry every day. And it's free.

Non-Union Stories Page Video Poster.jpg
bottom of page