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Should NY Lawmakers Close Pay Loophole for Utility Companies?



June 7, 2010

ALBANY, N.Y. - With just weeks to go in the New York legislative session, it is now up to the Assembly to decide whether utility companies such as National Grid must pay service workers a prevailing wage. Currently, those companies are exempt from the state's prevailing-wage law, which requires companies contracting with the state to pay employees at least the average going rate. Buffalo Assemblyman Sam Hoyt says some utility companies use contractors for such services as janitorial or security that pay less than eight dollars an hour. He says these regulated utilities can afford to pay workers a living wage, particularly when some of their executives earn millions of dollars a year.

"People say, 'Jeez, you can't do this during a tough economy.' Nonsense. This is when you have to do it. People are struggling to make ends meet; these particular members of the work force are struggling as much as anybody."

President Jerry Dennis of SEIU Local 200, which has 13,000 members in 52 upstate counties, says it is taxpayers who end up bearing the real cost of the exemption, because those service workers don't make enough to support their families. He says closing the loophole would provide an estimated 1100 workers with a living wage.

"That's helping keep folks off of public assistance, and allowing them to do exactly what we all go to work to do: to provide for our families, to be proud of what we do, to make a good honest living and not be reliant on public assistance; these are proud folks."

Utility companies are lobbying against the measure, which they say could result in rate increases for customers. Supporters of the measure say the pay increases amount to pennies on the dollar compared to the hundreds of millions these companies record in profits, and should not impact rates.

The Good Jobs Bill passed the Senate on a vote of 33 to 28 last week. It is currently being considered by the Assembly Labor Committee. (The Bills are S-7096 and A-10257).

Mike Clifford, Public News Service - NY
 

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