New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is said to fly into a rage every time he is told about construction job site deaths in New York City. From the beginning of 2015 to the end of 2016, de Blasio flew into a rage 33 times as the number of job site deaths keeps climbing.
Out of concern for the obvious drop in construction safety measures being taken at city job sites, de Blasio has been spearheading an initiative to introduce new legislation aimed at improving construction safety across the entire city. Now the city laws de Blasio has been negotiating for the last couple of years are almost ready for a vote, and some professional organizations in New York City are still concerned.
Accidents That Have Led To City Law Changes
In July 2016, the Tappan Zee Bridge was closed down when a large crane mysteriously toppled over onto the bridge and blocked off traffic. No one was killed, but city officials started to indicate that there was a lack of regard for safety on that job and that could have caused the collapse. That crane incident seemed to start a flurry of negotiations between the city and construction companies about safety, but it was not quite the catalyst for bringing about big changes.
In May 2017, three construction workers were injured when a beam fell while being lifted by a crane. Not too long after that accident, there were several reports of intense negotiations between the city and several factions representing the construction industry in New York City. The negotiations were about safety, and the city laws that are ready to be enacted based on those negotiations are extremely specific.
The Structure Of The Law
Initially, the city wanted all workers to be trained on construction safety in order for them to legally work on New York City job sites. But what slowed down the initial negotiations is that the unions wanted the new law to include a mandatory apprenticeship program for every construction worker in the five boroughs.
The non-union construction companies cried foul because that would mean that almost every worker in the city would be affiliated with the union. The unions argued that since they are the largest construction safety training entity in the city, it is only right to include the apprenticeship programs.
The deal that was negotiated makes it mandatory for every construction worker in New York City to have between 54 and 71 hours in construction safety training, based on their jobs and responsibilities. Special situations, such as workers who will be working in confined spaces, would require more training. Supervisors and job site managers would be required to take an extra 30 hours of training courses to work on jobs in the city. The apprenticeship program idea was dropped.
The Union Reaction To New Training Laws
Construction unions in New York City have been working hard to try and regain some kind of foothold on private work within the city for years. While the unions are usually called on for prevailing wage jobs that are offered by the city, state, and federal governments, the unions and their nearly 20 percent cost increase over non-union companies are losing out when it comes to private projects.
The unions are seizing on this concern for safety coming from City Hall as a chance to put union workers back into privately funded jobs. But, without apprenticeships being mandatory, the best the unions can do is increase revenues through ongoing safety training programs. However, the unions will have the chance to try and gain more members through the new programs as most of the newly trained union and non-union workers will be using union training facilities.
The Non-Union Reaction
The Real Estate Board of New York represents developers throughout the city who prefer to use non-union labor to cut down on construction costs. The problem is that the vast majority of job site deaths occur on non-union sites, and non-union companies are also at the top of the list when it comes to companies with the most construction safety violations.
The Real Estate Board has admitted that safety is a concern that needs to be addressed, but the Board also indicated that it is concerned that the new safety laws might be too strict and, at the same time, too vague. The new laws do not indicate when training should start and how the transitional period between the start of the program and the training of all New York City construction workers could be handled. The Board indicated that it is concerned that workers without the proper training could be thrown off of jobs and have them shut down if the laws are not clarified.
What Is Set To Change?
Mayor de Blasio is extremely serious about getting construction safety under control in New York City. While the motivations of the union and non-union sides of this discussion seem to be a bit more self-serving, each side does have a valid point to make that needs to be taken into consideration.
The unions are right when they say that they are the best-equipped entities in the city to get a citywide construction safety training program off the ground quickly. But holding out for mandatory apprenticeship programs offers very little substance to the issue of safety. The city is more interested in preventing worker deaths than it is in boosting union membership.
The non-union side is correct when it says that the laws need to be given more detail before they can be passed. But once the laws are passed, it is up to the non-union contractors to make sure that they follow the laws and do their part to bring down the number of job site deaths in the city.
City Hall Is Not Slowing Down
Regardless of what any of the construction entities want, new legislation regarding construction in New York City is coming. Mayor de Blasio has made it his personal quest to negotiate a deal and put something in place as soon as possible. Since the Manhattan crane collapse of 2016 that killed one pedestrian, there has been a bright spotlight shining on construction in New York City. The city government has admitted that it was slow to react, but now there is an urgency in City Hall to get something done.
In the end, the focus needs to be on everyone working together to create safer working conditions on construction job sites around the city. At this point, the city has not indicated any desire to focus solely on non-union construction companies and has instead chosen to focus on construction workers themselves.
For the last few years, the unions have demanded that the city does something to force non-union contractors to improve their safety records, and there have been initiatives discussed. OSHA has started the process of putting all safety records, union and non-union, on a website that is accessible to the public. While shaming non-union companies into improving their construction safety records may not be the only solution, it is a start.
Mayor Bill de Blasio and the New York City government are now in the middle of the fight to improve construction safety in New York City. With a law on the table that is almost ready for a vote, it looks like the city is ready to start taking action to make construction work safer in New York.