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Elevator Safety Advocates Look To Beef Up Vacca Bill

January 22, 2015
By Joe Maniscalco 

The elevator death of a 25-year-old man inside this Broome St. complex is spurring calls for reforms.
Elevator deaths, like the one that occurred on Broome Street recently, are spurring reforms.

New York, NY – The sponsor of a new bill aimed at improving elevator safety throughout the city says that he took the action because he is tired of waiting around for the state to do something about the alarming surge in building accidents — up a whopping 160 percent from 2009 to 2014, according to the FDNY. 

Council Member James Vacca’s [D-13th] new elevator safety legislation [Intro. 1053-2016] seeks to better protect an elevator-riding public recently aghast at a trio of gruesome accidents which took place at the close of last year. 

On New Year’s Eve, a 25-year-old man named Stephen Hewitt-Brown was killed while aiding fellow passengers inside a stalled elevator at 131 Broome Street in Lower Manhattan.

A statewide elevator safety bill has passed the New York State Assembly four times since 2012 — only to fail each time it reached the Republican-controlled State Senate. Advocates of the Elevator Safety Act are confident that they will be more successful this year, and Governor Andrew Cuomo has already said he will sign the bill, if and when, it gets to his desk. 

But in introducing legislation in the New York City Council this week, Vacca said he doesn’t want to wait around for that to happen. 

“I’m doing this because I’m not willing to wait for the state,” the Bronx council member told LaborPress. “We have no idea if or when the state will act. And I want to have licensing and certification requirements formalized here in New York City.”

Thirty-five states around the country require elevator technicians to be individually licensed — New York does not. 

Council member Vacca’s elevator safety bill won’t require individual licensing either. Instead, it calls for one individual per contractor to be licensed. 

"That’s not enough,” Local 1 IUEC Organizer Mike Halpin said in a statement. "If one person in a household has a driver’s license, that doesn’t mean everyone else in the house is qualified to drive. Similarly, every elevator technician must be licensed to safely perform their work.”

U.S. Air Force veteran Christian Ginesi died after plunging 24 stories at a Midtown Manhattan construction site last May. The 25-year-old, who had served in Afghanistan, expressed concerns about unsafe conditions at the job site prior to his death.

Ginesi’s mom, Laurie Smith, says that Council Member Vacca’s elevator safety bill would not have saved her son, and that the state needs to finally pass the Elevator Safety Act this year. 

“We lost Christian to an elevator failure during construction, not maintenance,” Smith said in a statement. “We need a bill that covers the risks to both passengers and workers throughout the state—we need the Elevator Safety Act.”

Pending legislation from Council Member Vacca is restricted to repairing and modernizing existing elevators, and not the construction of elevators in new buildings.  But critics point out that worker fatalities like Ginesi’s are more likely during the construction of new elevators. They also argue that post-construction accidents involving elevators can be attributed to poor construction. 

Mark Gregorio, head of TEI, the largest company installing and repairing elevators in the city, says that the Big Apple has the most diverse, sophisticated and heavily trafficked elevators in the world, and they demand the most diverse, technically proficient and safest workforce installing, upgrading and servicing them. 

“When 35 states require technicians to be individually licensed, New York City must certainly meet or exceed those requirements,” Gregorio told LaborPress. “Individual licensing is certainly in the public interest. The standards should include both classroom and practical on-the-job training via an appropriate apprentice program.”

Council Member Vacca is aware that advocates of individual licensing see deficiencies in his elevator safety bill, but he says that he is open to modifying the effort once all the stakeholders involved have had a chance to voice their concerns. 

“There are some concerns, but I introduced it so that we can begin the process, which would be a hearing before the Housing and Buildings Committee,” the council member said. “At that point, there will be public testimony. I think the content is good. And I think certification is going make safer elevators for the entire city.”

Gary LaBarbera, head of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, called Council Member Vacca’s bill a “critical first step.” 

“I sincerely hope this legislation will be further strengthened through amendments that provide added protections to elevator constructors and the public, including a requirement that elevator mechanics in New York City be licensed,” LaBarbera said in a statement. 

No hearing for Council Member Vacca’s bill has yet been set, but that could come in April. 

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