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Safety Bills Divide Workers in New York

Thursday, February 2, 2017

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A set of 21 bills aimed at increasing construction jobsite safety and a report revealing a crisis in rising construction fatalities in New York are fueling debate in the construction industry.

Thousands of workers rallied Tuesday (Jan. 31) in front of New York City Hall in favor and in protest of the bills, as New York City Council officials began hearing testimony on the measures that touch several issues including crane safety, worker training and mandatory apprenticeship programs, according to reports.

The bills were unveiled the same day the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH) issued its latest construction fatality report, “Deadly Skyline: An Annual Report on Construction Fatalities in New York State.”

Time to Act

Officials say 30 construction workers have died since 2015. NYCOSH reports that the deaths are almost “preventable” and occur on non-union job sites 80 percent of the time.

“Latino workers compose the majority of fall fatalities—57 percent in 2015; and there is strong correlation between employers who steal workers’ wages and who force workers to work under unsafe conditions,” said Charlene Obernauer, executive director of NYCOSH.

City Council Member Rafael Espinal added, “The fact that 464 construction workers died on the job in the past 10 years is unacceptable. Workers have been falling out of the sky at alarming rates and it is time we do something about it.”

Apprenticeship Program at Issue

The bill package includes a measure that calls for mandated apprenticeship programs on private job sites for major building projects 10 stories or higher, reports relate. Supporters say this would greatly impact the industry and reduce accidents.

Opponents say the proposal is misguided and will create a barrier for minorities looking for work.

“What they won’t tell you is that most of the incidents happen on job sites that are below the 10-story threshold,” Anthony Rinaldi, chairman of the Associated Builders and Contractors New York City Regional Leadership Committee, told Real Estate Weekly.

“Our goal in holding this rally is to make City Council officials aware of this discrepancy in the hopes that it will also make them aware of the fact that it could potentially put hundreds of thousands of people out of a job, including many minorities who need them most, without making building in NYC safer.”

trench collapse
NYPD / Manhattan District Attorney's Office

Prosecutors in New York City are using criminal law to prosecute contractors who endanger workers' lives. In 2016, Harco Construction was found guilty of manslaughter in the death of 22-year-old Carlos Moncayo in April 2015.

Construction is the most deadly industry in New York City, according to Councilman Jumaane Williams, the lead sponsor of the apprenticeship bill.

Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York President Gary LaBarbera attributes the rising worker deaths to a lack of training.

“Right now there is no training standard,” LaBarbera said. “I don’t see how anyone can legitimately oppose additional training to protect workers on construction work sites.”

The Real Estate Board of New York sees that apprenticeship requirements as a mandate for union labor, Crain’s reports.

It is unclear when a vote on the bill package will be held.


Tagged categories: Business matters; Construction; Fatalities; General contractors; Good Technical Practice; Government; Health and safety; Labor; Regulations; Unions; Worker training; Workers

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