In 2014, there were 231 construction accidents reported that included workers and pedestrians. In 2015, there were 433 accidents that injured 471 people. The dramatic rise in construction accidents comes as the construction boom in New York City picks up steam. However, as more and more jobs are going to nonunion workers, the union labor is left to try and fend for itself in a world where their share of the construction market is rapidly dwindling.
According to CityandStateNY.com, 15 of the 17 construction deaths in New York City in 2015 occurred on nonunion job sites. The most famous of all of the 2015 job site deaths involved a trench collapsing on undocumented foreign worker Carlos Moncayo. The job site was nonunion and the blatant administrative errors committed by the general contractor and subcontractor ended with manslaughter convictions for the company owners. It is also an accident being used as a lightning rod for the latest attempts by labor unions to save their dwindling market share.
Unions Want Accidents Labeled
In 2016, the New York City labor unions released a statement indicating that they want construction accidents within New York City to be marked as union or nonunion on the official accident reports. The unions point to the 2015 figure of 15 nonunion deaths out of 17 total construction deaths as an example of a good reason why these accidents need to be classified.
The unions contend that their superior training, better equipment, and reliable supervision make their workers safer. The purpose of classifying accidents is to help determine any trends that may be developing between union labor versus nonunion workers in regards to the types of accidents that are occurring, the violations assigned to these accidents, and the conditions that cause the accidents. The unions maintain that the numbers will consistently show union labor to be more reliable and efficient than nonunion workers.
Is There Another Reason For Classification?
The obvious purpose of unions asking for classifying construction accident reports is to discredit union labor and force New York City to make changes to bidding processes and safety regulations that would favor the unions. With an estimated 75 percent of the New York City construction labor force working for nonunion companies, it is apparent that the unions are feeling a financial pinch.
Currently, the New York City Department of Buildings does not make any distinction between union and nonunion labor on accident reports. However, OSHA does have a variance in place to keep those types of statistics. The unions want the Department of Buildings to adopt that variance and classify accidents as union or nonunion. The problem may be that classifying the accidents may not be the public relations win that unions are hoping for.
The Real Difference Between The Two
Between 2008 and 2014, there were 93 construction deaths in New York City. The data shows that 60 of those deaths were on nonunion job sites, while 33 were on union sites. If nonunion labor makes up 75 percent of the workforce and union labor fills in the remaining 25 percent, then there are actually more construction deaths per worker on union sites.
Union labor tends to be much more expensive than nonunion labor. But the unions say that their safety training and other comprehensive training programs make the value for their labor greater. However, if the percentage of deaths on union sites is higher than nonunion sites, then that value the unions are touting simply does not exist.
The idea of classifying construction accidents as union or nonunion seems redundant with OSHA already keeping those statistics. The Department of Buildings (DOB) has not commented yet on whether it will add another administrative duty to its already over-worked staff of inspectors, and there has been no indication as to whether the DOB is even considering the idea. Unions continue to lose out on private contracts all over New York City, and it is not clear if job site safety is an area where unions can separate themselves from nonunion workers.