Members of Local 79 took to the South Bronx to rally for higher wages with a little help from an elected official.

Last week, New York State Sen. Luis Sepúlveda and Laborer’s Local 79 held a news conference at the Monsignor Raul Del Valle Square complex to push a public works bill in the state legislature that would boost wages and improve work conditions for employees, many of whom are underpaid immigrants and laborers of color.

Sepúlveda, who was the lead sponsor of the 2019 state bill to restore access to driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants, said that this legislation is the definition of progression and will help the aforementioned laborers.

“Many upcoming development projects in the Bronx and elsewhere in New York are receiving state taxpayer-funded support in the form of subsidies or abatements,” said Sepúlveda. “The public works bill would ensure that all construction workers on these projects, regardless of immigration status, would be able to earn current prevailing wages of more than $40 per hour and gain a real path to economic security and the middle class.”

A similar bill to the current proposed one gained momentum in the state legislature, but didn’t make it past committees in any branch of state government. That bill included carve-outs for more affordable housing for households earning 60% of area median income with tax breaks for certain nonprofits.

The new public works bill currently working its way through state legislature is sponsored by New York State Sen. Jessica Ramos and New York State Assembly Member Harry Bronson.

Sepúlveda and Local 79 members announced they’ll work together to build a diverse coalition of support for the legislation.

“Latino and Hispanic laborers are often the most vulnerable to wage theft, exploitation, injury, and even death on construction sites,” said Anthony Harmon, the most recent president of the Metro New York Chapter of the A. Philip Randolph Institute, the senior constituency group of the AFL-CIO. “I’ve seen it firsthand throughout my career as a Puerto Rican laborer and longtime Bronx resident who worked my way up to become a business agent in my union, Laborers’ Local 79.”

Rallygoers held up signs that read “Wage Justice Is Racial Justice.” But justice could be fleeting for these laborers. The state constitution labels public works as state-financed ventures who must pay a prevailing wage, but certain public projects aren’t required to. Privately financed projects aren’t required to.

Steve Andujar, a business agent at Laborers’ Local 79 who grew up in the Bronx, said that the union is happy to work with Sepúlveda and hopes that the state makes a change ASAP.

“For many laborers, this vital legislation will not only boost wages, but also help create safer working conditions and better protections against wage theft,” said Andujar.

Harmon added his voice in favor of prevailing wages for construction workers who work on taxpayer-funded projects.

“Paying workers a prevailing wage helps to attract a more skilled workforce, and helps to close the economic achievement gap that exists in the Black and Latino community. This rising tide can help to lift all ships,” said Harmon.