New York, NY – Mayor Bill de Blasio is under increasing pressure to institute a citywide moratorium on all non-essential building — but the coronavirus pandemic is already impacting the most vulnerable construction workers in the industry.
Unrepresented non-union construction workers, already especially vulnerable to wage theft, misclassification and other worker abuses, are being told to stay home.
“What’s happening is unprecedented and is undoubtedly going to hurt all workers — but especially the non-union workers who we represent, many of whom live paycheck to paycheck and may not be eligible for government benefits, NY Community Alliance for Worker Justice organizer Eddie Jorge told LaborPress.
Last week, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams joined Brooklyn City Council Members Brad Lander and Carlos Menchaca in calling on Mayor de Blasio to suspend all non-essential construction due to the COVID-19 crisis.
In his letter to the mayor, Williams said, “This painful step is needed as part of the city’s aggressive social distancing policy, to protect the health of construction workers, their families, and the general public.”
Other major American cities, including Boston and San Francisco, have already instituted moratoriums on non-essential construction.
“Although some construction is outside, even in those cases workers gather in groups, travel via subway or van, and have to place their kids in childcare,” Williams added. “Those are exactly the kinds of contact we must reduce in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19 by keeping all non-essential workers in their homes.”
Construction not included in the proposed ban include, hospitals and health care facilities, transit, utilities, public infrastructure, supportive housing and homeless shelters, as well as emergency repairs such as heat and hot water in existing residential buildings.
Gary LaBarbera, head of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York issued a statement in response to the proposed construction ban saying that his organization is partnering with the real estate industry and contractors to “institute significant measures that prioritize the health, safety and well-being of workers across the city.”
“We applaud Governor Cuomo for his continued leadership in guiding New York through these challenging times and his commitment to ensuring our hard-working members are deemed essential to the recovery efforts of this city,” LaBarbera continued.
While calling for a ban on non-essential construction, Williams also stressed the need to protect the rights of unrepresented nonunion construction workers and to compensate them for work they have already performed.
“We must also work together to ensure that construction workers who are unable to work due to construction suspension are included in unemployment insurance (UI) relief and other programs,” Williams said. “For undocumented workers who are excluded from New York State’s UI program, the city should establish an emergency fund to help ensure that these workers are able to support their families in this crisis.”