ALBANY — A state mandate designed to prevent workplace discrimination is getting strong resistance from the contractors it would impact, just weeks before it takes effect.

The executive order, released by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in January, requires firms that land state contracts to regularly provide a breakdown of their payroll data by gender, race and ethnicity while working on the projects.

The mandate also requires the contractors to report the payroll data of their subcontractors.

Employers question the state's need for such data, in part because many workers on construction projects are compensated under the prevailing-wage law, with pay rates known by the state, said Michael Elmendorf, president of the Associated General Contractors of New York State.

"We don't believe this information is going to be useful," said Elmendorf, noting that pay differences for a man and woman in the same job are often based on whether one has far more experience than the other.

Representatives of the Cuomo administration have opened a dialogue with critics of the mandate, including the Business Council of the State of New York. Business leaders say they hope to make the requirement less onerous before it takes effect in January.

 

OBLIGATION

But the reporting requirement is not without advocates.

Dina Bakst, co-president of A Better Balance, a group that supports equal pay for equal work measures, said companies can easily furnish the data and should be enthusiastic to show they won't tolerate unfair practices in their workplace.

"It's a privilege, not a right, to contract with the state," Bakst said. "New York state spends billions of dollars every year on state contracts and has an obligation that the workers hired to carry out these contracts get equal compensation."

In the absence of such data, she said, the state has no way of knowing whether a contractor has discriminatory payroll practices.

A Cuomo spokeswoman, Abbey Fashouer, said the administration is remaining flexible while it reviews the concerns of business groups but is intent on moving forward with the reporting requirement.

 

CONTRIBUTES TO DRAIN

With the upstate region's sluggish business climate already putting many employers into choppy waters, the mandate will increase the challenges for companies competing for contracts in New York, said Mark Galasso, president of Lancaster Development Corp. in Richmondville.

"This is another example of why people are fleeing this state," Galasso said. "If you didn't count the number of foreign immigrants New York is getting, New York has lost hundreds of thousands of people these past six years."

 

NATIONAL VIEW

A similar pay-gap dispute has played out on the national stage. Then-President Barack Obama, in his second term, required employers to furnish data about employees' pay, gender, ethnicity and race. In August, President Donald Trump scuttled that mandate.

Meanwhile, California Gov. Jerry Brown, citing the potential for such a reporting requirement to spawn lawsuits against his state, vetoed legislation that called for a mandate similar to what Cuomo has presented in New York.

Brown's action has sparked optimism among New York business leaders that Cuomo will soften the requirements, which now call for quarterly and, in some instances, monthly updates on such data filings.

"Certainly, New York is asking for far more data, far more frequently" than the blocked California or federal mandates, said Ken Polansky, vice president of the Business Council, a leading business advocacy group in Albany.

"I think this will lead to erroneous conclusions and the demand for more data from particular employers," he added.

He said there is also concern that the data turned over by companies could be obtained via requests through freedom of information laws.

Elmendorf said the release of such data could harm contractors' ability to remain competitive as they bid for state projects.

 

Email Joe Mahoney at:

jmahoney@cnhi.com

 

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