New York, NY – Now that the New York City Council has finally moved to enhance safety standards following the deaths
of nearly 40 mostly non-union construction workers since 2015, worker advocates say the next step is to start getting tough on the criminal contractors who continue to put working men and women in peril.
“We want to make sure that employers are held accountable — that’s a big part of the equation,” Manuel Castro, executive director of New Immigrant Community Empowerment [NICE], told LaborPress on Wednesday. “And we believe that this is a start in holding these employers accountable. More can be done and we’re going to be proposing more steps to be taken.”
The bill that the City Council unanimously passed this week, mandates that all workers – union and non-union alike – receive up to 50 hours of training, and penalizes contractors and developers up to $5,000 for each insufficiently trained worker.
“This is not about union or non-union, this is about safety for construction workers,” Charlene Obernauer, executive director, New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health [NYCOSH], said ahead of the City Council vote. “This is about safety at all job sites. This is about immigrant workers, its about non-immigrants workers, it’s about every construction worker and every New Yorker who walks down the street and wants to make sure that New York City is safer.”
Gary LaBarbera, head of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, called passage of Intro. 1447 a “historic moment in the progressive fought for a safer workplace” and a “significant step in the right direction for improving worker safety and standardizing rigorous training in New York City.”
Last week, two construction workers died on separate job sites in a single day.
NICE member Olivia Sotto joined the chorus of worker advocates pushing for passage of Intro. 1447, saying that the recent spate of construction worker deaths has disproportionally impacted the immigrant community.
“Employers always look to produce quickly at the cost of our lives,” Sotto said.
In addition to enhanced safety training, Intro. 1447 also includes $5 million dollars for organizations like NICE to help
get workers up to speed, regardless of union affiliation.
“Immigrant workers want trainings,” Castro said. “Our members are a testimonial to that. They come to us looking for additional trainings, so it’s not that the workers don’t want to get trained — it’s that the capacity to provide these trainings doesn’t exist.”
The head of the 2,500-member organization said that in addition to safety training, immigrant construction workers need more support on the job.
“We need to empower workers to be able to go to their employers and say, ‘I will stop working here because it’s not safe for me,’” Castro said. “You want to make sure that the city tells them these are your rights, and you can come to us if there are any violations. You can raise your voice without the fear of being retaliated against.”
Castro called this week’s passage of Intro. 1444 a “big tool,” but that the City of New York needs to get a lot tougher in terms of protecting the lives of all those who build the skyline.
“We believe the city can do more,” Castro said. “This a big tool that the city can use to hold these bad employers accountable — and that’s their contractor’s licenses. No one’s talking about that right now. And our members are here to make sure we’re talking about that. Bad employers should not be operating in this city.”
Passage of this week’s bill could impact between 60,000 and 70,000 people working in New York City’s booming construction industry.