May 13, 2015
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – This week, New Yorkers learned that Department of Buildings inspectors probing construction site accidents like the one that most recently claimed the life of 25-year-old war veteran Christian Ginesi, don’t really care if suspect jobsites are union or non-union — now, however, a newly-released safety report strongly suggests that maybe they should start.
Ginesi was working on a non-union construction site at 301 West 46th Street when he fell 24 stories down an elevator shaft and later died. The May 5, accident happened on the site of the new $106 million Hotel Riu.
According to “The Price of Life,” the New York Committee on Occupational Safety and Health’s [NYCOSH] 2015 report on New York City construction fatalities, practically all of the fatal fall construction accidents federal investigators looked at in 2012, happened on similar non-union jobsites.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration [OSHA] inspectors found that almost 80 percent of the fatal falls they investigated in New York City occurred on non-union job sites. At the same time, non-union contractors constituted 90 percent of the agency’s list of the most “recalcitrant employers that endanger workers by committing willful, repeat or failure-to-abate violations.”
Despite their horrific nature, however, violators involved in deadly construction site accidents in New York City face few repercussions. According to NYCOSH, the average penalty in fatal hight-related construction accidents was only $7,620 in 2012.
"They just pay the fines and go back to work," Terry Moore, business agent, Metallic Lathers & Reinforcing Ironworkers Union Local 46, told members of the Buildings and Housing Committee on Monday.
Increasing concerns about wage theft, as well as workers safety on non-union construction sites citywide, come at a time when New York City is experiencing a building boom that in 2014, translated into $57 billion for the local economy.
“There simply is no overestimating how important the construction industry is to New York City,” New York Building Congress President Richard Anderson said following last month's findings.
The de Blasio administration, meanwhile, is in the midst of a massive housing plan that despite promising to build or preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing over the next decade, is facing strong objections from organized labor and other worker advocates who charge that the effort is coming at the expense of low-wage earners.
The “Price of Life” report, for example, further finds that although Latino construction workers comprise just 25 percent of New York’s workforce, they represent almost 40 percent of construction fatalities.
Earlier this week, the New York State Association for Affordable Housing, an organization of developers, lenders and investors, pushed back against findings that show union jobsites are safer than their non-union counterparts, by releasing its own statistics purporting union construction sites are actually more dangerous than non-union worksites “in proportion to the participation rate” of both groups.
NYCOSH dismissed those claims outright at Monday’s construction site safety hearing at City Hall.
“They should fire their researcher,” said NYCOSH Executive Director Charlene Obernauer.
It still remains to be seen what impact the union vs. non-union debate might have on the full city council.
"I beleive that we have to get tougher on those bad actors," Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez [D-10th District] said this week.