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Massive Rally, Slew of New Bills Aim to Right NYC’s Construction Safety Wrongs

NYC rally construction safety

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In New York City, thousands of construction workers rallied at City Hall last week to demand safer work conditions and draw attention to the recent increase in fatalities and injuries on work sites.  The rally was preceded by a march which began at a non-union worksite and featured union members in black hardhats carrying coffins. They visited the worksites where the year’s fatalities had occurred, leaving a hardhat and a candle as a show of solidarity.

The rally came on the heels of a New York Times investigative report which found that construction injuries and fatalities were very much on the rise.  The rallying construction workers were joined by politicians who hope to see changes in the industry. Among them was Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, who told the crowd:

We have to raise safety standards.  We have to set the bar higher for site safety.  We have to get the [Department of Buildings] inspectors to respond faster to issues that you point out as the workers.”

City Councilman Corey Johnson is joining Brewer in backing legislation which would mandate proper apprenticeship training to work construction on projects 10 stories or higher.  Brewer explained her legislation to the crowd:

“We are going to suggest legislation to make sure that no matter the height of the building, low or high, the workers have the right training so that the families of these hard-working men and women do not have to wonder if their loved ones will come home at the end of the day.  That should not be something somebody has to worry about.”

The proposed bill is backed by Building and Construction Trades Council (BCTC) of Greater New York President Gary LaBarbera, who pointed to Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) statistics showing that 14 of the 16 fatalities this year were on non-union projects.  LaBarbera told Capital New York:

“Tragedies at construction sites have become all too common.  We are outraged and all of New York should be outraged that irresponsible developers and contractors increasingly are putting their bottom lines ahead of the workers who are the lifeblood of this business.”

An OSHA report found that from 2012 to 2013, 72% of fatal fall construction accidents in New York City occurred on non-union worksites.

Eddie Spiess Jr. Ironworkers Local 40 member Eddie Spiesss, Jr. explained the importance of union training to the New York Daily News:

“We’re being looked at through a microscope and they’re just being looked at through a Coke bottle.  More union people make for a stronger, safer work environment. Our training is very extensive. We need more apprentices working under professionals — that’s how you learn.”

Fellow ironworker Mark Kovatch added:

“The city needs to hold these contractors accountable.  They (contractors) are hiring people who are not qualified and these people are paying for it with their lives.”

With the rally in full force, the New York City Council met to urge swift passage of legislation that would penalize contractors who violate safety standards.  A hearing was held by the City Council Committee on Housing and Buildings to seek fast-track legislation and question the city’s buildings commissioner.  Committee chairman Jumaane D. Williams explained the urgency:

“Saving New Yorkers’ lives is the reason that I called this hearing today.  To the families of those that we have lost, and to those who have been injured, let me say loudly and clearly: We hear you, and we are here because of you.”

In addition to the Brewer-Johnson bill, the committee heard from Councilman Rory I. Lancman regarding his desire for legislation that would force the Department of Buildings to report safety violations to the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration.  Two other bills tagret double penalties for contractors who work without a permit and violate a stop-work order.  Another bill would  establish a task force of mayoral agencies, to be led by the Department of Buildings, that would convene regularly to assess the safety risks posed to workers, pedestrians, and motorists near construction sites. Several other council members said they were in the process of drafting similar bills that could be introduced in the upcoming weeks.  

The proposed bills are all opposed by the de Blasio administration.  


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