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Mayor de Blasio Signs Legislation Expanding Prevailing Wage and Charting a New Path Forward for Hart Island

December 4, 2019

NEW YORK—Today, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed Intro. 1321-A, sponsored by Council Member Rafael Espinal, which will expand the guarantee of prevailing wages to building service workers in City financed projects. The bill continues the Mayor’s commitment to ending inequality by ensuring that workers in the City can afford to both work and live here.

“From keeping the heat on to keeping our families safe, New Yorkers rely on building service workers. This expansion of prevailing wage will help create a fairer city by ensuring workers have the same security and peace of mind they bring to residents every day,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “As we continue to protect the dignity of every New Yorker, past and present, we are also charting a new course forward for the future of Hart Island, ensuring its history and legacy are preserved for the families whose loved ones were laid to rest there.”

The prevailing wage for building service workers reflects the pay and benefits paid by the majority of private employers and requires benefits like health insurance, retirement, and paid time off.  Since 2012, prevailing wages were required for building service employees in most developments where a private developer received at least $1,000,000 in discretionary financial assistance from the City. The 2012 law exempted all affordable housing projects from the wage standard.

The bill signed today will cover additional developers and projects by removing the current exemption in the Prevailing Wage Law for affordable housing projects and not-for-profit developers of residential projects. Now, building service workers in most residential projects receiving financial assistance of at least $1,000,000 for new construction or preservation will be guaranteed the prevailing wage. The bill exempts smaller residential projects with fewer than 120 units, certain supportive housing projects, deeply affordable preservation projects and NYCHA projects financed through the federal Rental Assistance Demonstration program.

The law builds off reforms aimed at raising the wage and benefit floor for more New Yorkers and reducing income inequality including paid sick leave, fair work week, and raising the minimum wage.  

The Mayor also signed four bills related to the future of Hart Island: Int. 906-A, sponsored by Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, transfers the control of Hart Island from the Department of Correction to NYC Parks; Int. 909-B, sponsored by Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, mandates the creation of a public travel plan for Hart Island; Int. 1580-A, sponsored by Council Member Debi Rose, requires a public hearing on burials and Int. 1559-A, sponsored by Council Member Diana Ayala, establishes a Human Resources Administration (HRA)  office to support people in need of burial assistance.

Hart Island is a 131-acre island located in the Bronx, near City Island, at the western end of Long Island Sound. The island has served many roles, including a Civil War internment camp, a psychiatric institution, and a Nike Missile launch site for the United States Military. However, its primary function has been that of a public cemetery for burials of indigent individuals, or for those whose remains are either unidentified or unclaimed by next of kin. The island is managed by the Department of Correction.

The City recognizes that the current system for burying those who are indigent, unidentified or not claimed presents inherent complications for family and loved ones, and is not sustainable over the long term. This legislation will further the Administration’s efforts to create a new path forward in our approach to public burials that is more responsive to the needs of families and loved ones. HRA released an RFI in September seeking information about alternative burial practices, including other possible locations. This is a first step in the process for HRA to eventually take over responsibility for burials of the indigent, unidentified and unclaimed under a new framework.

Under the legislation signed today, jurisdiction of the island will transition from DOC to NYC Parks. Parks is committed to maintaining public access to the island so that families and loved ones can continue to visit. Legislation signed today will also help ensure there is adequate transit to facilitate access. 

The Human Resources Administration will also be establishing the Office of Burial Services, an enhancement and expansion of its existing burial allowance program. This office will help New Yorkers in need of information, support and financial assistance for eligible next of kin, legally responsible relatives, friends or other designated entities of deceased indigent or unclaimed persons who require information about and help facilitating the management of decedent remains through public burial as well as accessing public burial, a burial allowance or any similar program. 

“Today is another major step forward in the fight to make Hart Island a dignified resting place for the more than one million souls who are buried there and ease the burden of loved ones who want to visit them. How we remember people who came before us says a lot about our moral compass and about who we are as a city. We will keep working to improve our city’s public burial process. I want to thank my colleagues and the advocates who worked tirelessly throughout this process to ensure these bills would become law, and I look forward to a more dignified Hart Island becoming a reality someday soon,” said Council Speaker Corey Johnson. “The working-class is the backbone of our City. This City Council will always stand up for the workers, and today is another example of that. We cannot have a city where too many New Yorkers work for low wages, which are insufficient to raise a family and put food on the table. Now, after a long fight alongside labor leaders, building service workers will get the prevailing wage they deserve from developers who receive city subsidies to build large affordable housing developments.”

“This law proves New York’s commitment to addressing the good jobs and affordable housing crisis from multiple angles. 32BJ and our members are proud to support a law that will allow New York communities to rest assured that the jobs created in the development of 120,000 new affordable housing units will be good, family sustaining jobs. It’s a win for working people and for the communities they support,” said Kyle Bragg, president of 32BJ SEIU, the largest property service union in the country.

“Many of our city’s parks have long-ago histories of having been the resting places of our ancestors,” said NYC Parks Commissioner Mitchell J. Silver, FAICP. “Today, they are ever-cherished, well used public spaces where memories are made. Like those, we are committed to doing our part, working with City Hall and sister agencies, to realize the future Hart Island. Together we will honor those at rest, continue access for their loved ones, while working to transforming into a welcoming public space.”

“We must invest in creating both affordable housing opportunities and high quality, good-paying jobs, and today we celebrate a milestone in our journey in accomplishing both of these goals by expanding the building service prevailing wage law,” said HPD Commissioner Louise Carroll. “I thank the Mayor for his collaborative leadership with the City Council to champion these bills that double down on the City’s commitments to strengthen worker protections and build more affordable homes to support a fairer city for all.”

“It has been the Department’s solemn honor to manage burials on Hart Island for over a century, and we support the changes that the City is looking to make. We are committed to facilitating this transition and sharing any knowledge we have learned in our many years of stewardship there,” said Department of Correction Commissioner Cynthia Brann.

"Today the City takes steps forward in extending dignity and compassion to New Yorkers and their families whose final resting place is Hart Island," said Department of Social Services Commissioner Steven Banks. "Through the creation of the Office of Burial Services at HRA we stand ready to support New Yorkers in need as they navigate the burial process."

"As our city becomes a more expensive place to live, we have to push for laws that close its wealth gap. The city is also facing a housing crisis that has to be addressed not just by looking at how much affordable housing is available, but by examining what kind of jobs are available as well. I introduced this prevailing wage law because it is the standard we set during the East New York Neighborhood Plan. Of the 100% affordable housing that is being built, each building is now going to provide prevailing wages to its staff. If we did it in East New York, we can do it citywide,” said Council Member Rafael Espinal.

“My colleagues and I in the Council are committed to seeing working people prosper and earn wages that sustain families,” said Councilman I. Daneek Miller, Chair of the Committee on Civil Service and Labor. “Since day one, we have fought to maintain the dignity of our workforce and provide protections for the men and women that make our city run every day. I am looking forward to witnessing the full implementation of this bill, and congratulate 32BJ for their success in this endeavor.”

“The City of New York is looking to finally pay its respects to those interred in our largest burial ground at Hart Island. By transferring control to the Parks Department, we will give access to the families of the deceased and pull back island’s veil of secrecy that has existed for far too long,” said Council Member Peter Koo, Chair of the Committee on Parks and Recreation.

“Today is a historic day for New York City. Those buried in the nation’s largest public cemetery will finally receive justice. This is about giving respect and dignity to the immigrants and poor New Yorkers buried on Hart Island and the family members who go through a lengthy and at times complicated process to visit their loved ones. For the first time in over 150 years we will begin putting a transportation plan to allow the public to visit and learn about the history of Hart island,” said Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, Chairman of the Transportation Committee. “Hart Island, which has over 1 million bodies, shouldn’t be guarded by correctional officers. The journey to today’s achievements was long, but I am proud to have worked alongside Speaker Corey Johnson, colleagues and advocates like Melinda Hunt from the Hart Island Project to get this bill passed, and to the Mayor for signing this historic bill today.”

"Putting a loved one to rest is difficult for all families, but can be quickly compounded if families do not have the financial capacity to cover burial costs. Grieving families deserve more resources to help them address this challenge, which is why I am proud to have worked with my colleagues to pass Introduction 1559, which will establish the Office of Burial Assistance within the Department of Social Services," said Council Member Diana Ayala. "This office will help those who just lost a loved one to access burial allowances or information about public burial, both of which can help alleviate some of the stress associated with loss."

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