Prevailing Wage Won’t Prevail

A College Point construction business was ordered to cough up more than $1 million after admitting it failed to pay its workers the “prevailing wage” mandated for any company with a public works contract doing business with the city.

But for beleaguered city Comptroller John Liu, it was a Pyrrhic victory. Most of the workers at Mascon Restoration Inc., on whose behalf he was fighting, are believed to be undocumented aliens. Liu’s office estimates between 10 and 20.

Only three of the workers have come forward. They will split $288,000 of the money, leaving $788,000 unclaimed. The other workers are likely afraid that if they come forward they might be arrested and deported.

For them, Liu’s victory is bad news. Mascon cannot get another city contract until 2017, and even if the company has enough business, it will be reluctant to hire undocumented workers.

Construction, grounds-keeping and other businesses in New York City hire illegals because they are often skilled laborers who work hard and are willing to work for much less than their counterparts working on the books.

This is not to defend Mascon Construction, which reportedly told the undocumented laborers not to speak with inspectors representing Liu’s office, because they were really immigration officials.

This victory comes at a time when the comptroller is locking horns with the mayor over the century-old prevailing wage rule. Michael Bloomberg has signed an executive order that will give the mayor regulatory control of nearly 10,000 unionized trade workers, taking away a power that has rested with the comptroller for 100 years.

The comptroller will no longer have the power to set “prevailing wages” for trade workers. Their unions will have to negotiate with City Hall like every other union.

Not surprisingly, Bloomberg made this decision without consulting with the trade unions that it will affect or Liu. There is little chance that the concept of prevailing wage will prevail.

In the end, some of the undocumented workers at Mascon had to give up their jobs. The comptroller won them money they are afraid to collect, citing a prevailing wage law that he can no longer enforce. Go figure.

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