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Howard Nielsen, the owner of Sticky Lips BBQ, has made a lot of accusations in the past several weeks. He has accused my organization of intimidation and state government of corruption. I can no longer let those accusations go unanswered.
Mr. Nielsen thinks he only had a problem because local construction unions had it in for him. Nothing could be farther from the truth. He had a problem because he chose to take assistance from the state and then didn't want to live up to the responsibilities that went along with that assistance. While Sticky Lips is a private business and the building was constructed with private funds, it sits on land owned by the state of New York. By law, construction done on taxpayer-owned land is a public work, and prevailing wages must be paid. If Mr. Nielsen did not want to pay prevailing wages, he could have paid for land to put his business somewhere else. But he chose not to-because he wanted to take advantage of a piece of real estate owned, in part, by you and me.
The truth is simple. Mr. Nielsen violated the law and got caught. Simply disliking a law doesn't give you the right to violate it. But rather than taking responsibility, Mr. Nielsen is blaming everyone but himself. Apparently, he feels representatives of the Department of Labor "pressured" him into following the law. Exactly. As law enforcement officials, that's their job. If a state trooper "pressures" you to pull over for speeding, that's not extortion-that's how the law works.
I'm also glad that this issue has given me the opportunity to talk about the importance of prevailing wages. Many people seem to think that prevailing wages are the same as union wages. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Prevailing wages protect all workers from a race to the bottom in wages, union and non-union. But more importantly, prevailing wages protect local contractors. We have a high standard of living in New York and a higher cost of living than other areas. Requiring prevailing wages on government projects ensures that out-of-state contractors don't flood the market with bids artificially depressed by workers from Alabama, Texas or even south of Texas, where wages are substantially lower. If that happened, all local businesses, including Mr. Nielsen's, would suffer. The simple truth is that the prevailing wage law protects local businesses and local people.
If Mr. Nielsen doesn't like the law, he could try to change it. Of course, that's going to be tough, because the founders of our state felt so strongly about protecting local businesses that they enshrined the prevailing wage in the state Constitution. But until that happens, Mr. Nielsen is going to have to follow the law just like anyone else.
Mr. Nielsen would like you to believe that New York is a bad place to do business. In fact, I believe this recent incident shows exactly why New York is a great place to do business. Government doesn't always work perfectly here, but it does work. And laws are enforced no matter who you are-from a guy digging ditches to the owner of Sticky Lips.
David Young Jr. is president of the Rochester Building and Construction Trades Council.6/15/12 (c) 2012 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.