As a born and raised New Yorker, there’s nowhere else in the world I’d rather be. While I’ve watched friends I grew up with flee to the suburbs or other cities with lower costs of living, I’ve thanked my lucky stars for the life I’ve been able to build here with my family, thanks to my career with union carpenters and contractors.
Becoming a union carpenter has allowed me to receive good wages with quality healthcare and retirement benefits. When my daughters get older, I’ll be ready to send them to school and give them all the opportunities they deserve. I get to live a solid, middle-class life building the city I love.
But sadly, for many construction workers, especially those who do not belong to a union, this is not a shared reality. 41% of construction workers in New York rely on some form of government assistance, and 25% do not have healthcare. This costs taxpayers more than $2 billion per year at the state and federal level to provide assistance to construction workers struggling to make ends meet. Providing good pay and benefits for workers in the construction industry is needed to alleviate cost burdens to both these workers and taxpayers.
Anyone living in New York City can tell you we’re experiencing an affordability crisis. Housing costs for renters and homeowners alike have skyrocketed as the supply of affordable housing has not kept up with our city’s growth. Everyday things like groceries and gas are more expensive too. Certainly, one piece of the equation to solving this affordability crisis is to build more affordable housing.
But we must remember the other side of the coin is to provide workers with the wages and benefits needed to keep up with inevitable rises in costs of living. Last year, a study found that rent growth was outpacing wage growth by 23% in New York City. Yes, housing costs need to come down. But wages need to come up too. This includes wages for the workers building the affordable housing we need.
As we invest in building affordable housing, we need to make sure this money is fully invested in the community by paying all of the workers who build these projects with good wages and benefits. Construction workers quite literally put their sweat into fixing the city’s affordability crisis. They deserve to be compensated fairly for it.
If the workers building New York’s affordable housing cannot afford to live in it themselves, something has clearly gone wrong. Let’s build housing, New York. But let’s pay workers fairly for that housing.
We need to keep construction the reliable source of middle-class careers it has been for generations. Thanks to my wages and benefits with union carpenters and contractors, I can comfortably raise my family in the place I work, contributing to the tax base and building housing for others in the process. That is real affordability.
Terrell Martin is a Union Carpenter in Local 157.