July 18, 2104
By Joe Maniscalco
Editor’s Note: The following is part of an ongoing LaborPress series examining the ways in which efforts to weaken New York’s Scaffold Law jeopardize workers.
New York, NY – For some, New York’s Scaffold Law is a blessing, and the best chance they have to try and rebuild their shattered lives following a catastrophic fall on the job. For others, Labor Law 240 is a burdensome financial impediment responsible for thwarting everything from new schools construction, to minority-owned businesses. But the idea that Labor Law 240 is the plague opponents in the insurance industry make it out to be, seems absolutely “ridiculous” to the man whose job is all about building.
“I want them building more,” says James Cahill, president of the state’s Building & Construction Trades Council [BCTC]. “When [contractors] build more, they employ my people.”
Over the last year, Cahill says that there have been “fair and honest” conversations between organized labor and legitimate contractors about worker safety and rising construction costs. And after talking, both parties have the same question they want the insurance industry to answer.
“Why is the price going up?,” Cahill says. “Legitimate management has said they’re not against safety. And they want answers, too. But they can’t get answers from the insurance companies.”
Ostensibly, safer worksites should result in reduced insurance costs – like rewarding safe drivers who avoid on-the-road accidents. But Cahill is concerned that the big insurance companies might be trying to lump union jobs with non-union outfits who do not offer comparable training, and, in fact, constitute most of the construction deaths that occur on job sites in New York.
According to a New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health [NYCOSH] report issued in April, “Construction workers increasingly are self-employed, as contractors try to avoid paying for benefits and workers’ compensation insurance by hiring supposedly independent contractors.”
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration [OSHA], meanwhile, has found that its field inspectors “all too often encounter job sites where fall protection is inadequate or absent, exposing workers to the number one killer in construction work.”
Earlier this month in Brooklyn, OSHA determined that a contractor employing workers to demolish a three-story residential building near Prospect Park, failed to provide them with, and ensure the use of, lifesaving fall protection.
“You go to work, and you hope it’s a safe environment,” says Cahill. “You hope you hook up to the right scaffold, you hope the ladder is good – but accidents do happen. So, we need an open and fair conversation with all the players involved.”
So far, even with help from the governor, and pending legislation from Assemblyman Francisco Moya [D-39th District] mandating transparency, that has not happened. Until it does, the BCTC president is tired of so-called “reformers” attempting to demonize New York’s Scaffold Law.
“Tell that to the guy that’s in a wheelchair for the rest of his life,” Cahill says. “The insurance companies have refused to open up their books to their customers or to us. But, hopefully, they will [in the future].”