Dominick Calsolaro

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The Prevailing Argument

The Albany Common Council votes down an amendment supporting union wages

Published on 3/18/2010 by Metroland written by Chet Hardin

The Albany Common Council voted Monday night to approve the formation of the City of Albany Capital Resource Corporation. The CRC will be a companion component to Albany’s Industrial Development Authority; the two agencies will have the same board and same professional staffing. In 2008, the state Legislature let the IDAs’ ability to finance nonprofit projects lapse. The CRC is being created to fill that funding void.

The vote to authorize the CRC’s creation was a relatively uncontentious one.

What was contentious was an amendment to the resolution presented by First Ward Councilman Dominick Calsolaro. The amendment would have added language to the resolution guaranteeing that any project the CRC becomes involved with would pay prevailing wage, a rate “determined by virtue of collective bargaining agreements between bona fide labor organizations and employers of the private sector,” according to the New York State Department of Labor.

Proponents of Calsolaro’s amendment argued that it was vital to maintaining a strong middle class, as Councilwoman Catherine Fahey argued: “How do you expect to create a middle class if you don’t create middle-class jobs?”

“How can these people get up there and say that they support labor, and they support prevailing wage, and then vote against the one chance that they have to put it in practice?” asked Calsolaro.

His amendment was voted down 9 to 5, with Michael O’Brien voting “present.”

Freshman Councilman Frank Commisso Jr. supported the amendment. He said that by not supporting prevailing wage, the council was instead supporting “a race to the bottom.”

Later, he told Metroland, “We don’t want contractors competing on price and nothing else. I wanted to give labor a shot here to get fair compensation for their work on major projects here in Albany. I think that the alternative, what we are going to wind up with, is contractors competing on the basis of price. And it’s going to completely price out good labor that is well-trained and that does good work.”

You get what you pay for, he said.

Opponents of the amendment pointed out that if the city insists upon prevailing wage, then those seeking these funds could go to another institution, such as the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York, or directly to Bank of America. “If we could pass legislation that would enforce the payment of prevailing wage in the city of Albany, I would vote for that,” said President Pro Tempore Richard Conti, “but we can’t.”

Conti joined others who said that this is an issue that needs to be resolved at the state level.

Further, critics of the amendment pointed out, the CRC will collect administrative fees on the financing deals that it helps arrange, just like the IDA. And like the IDA, much of that money will go to support community projects, such as the Arbor Hill Community Center and the Summer Youth Employment Program.

To place the burden of prevailing wage on the CRC would, in effect, lessen the support these institutions receive.

Commisso dismissed this concern.

“Some of the council members got nervous that some of these projects would be put in jeopardy if they supported the general concept of supporting protections for labor in the CRC legislation,” he said. “If we see to it that these programs are priorities to us, we can fund them. To scare everybody into thinking that the Arbor Hill Community Center is going away because of this amendment is wrong.”

Plus, Commisso added, had the amendment had the negative consequences that its opponents suggested, there would be nothing stopping the council from “taking legislative initiative and changing course in the future.”

Councilwoman Barbara Smith, who supported the amendment, lamented at the time of the vote that these two issues should not be pitted against each other, “so that we have don’t an incredible conflict over the right thing to do.”