April 9, 2017
By Silver Krieger
New York, NY — LaborPress and AM970 The Answer held a special event on Thursday, April 4th, to honor Labor Appreciation Day. At the midtown location, six panels were held on important labor topics including the first of the day, titled “Improving Safety at Construction Sites.”
The panel featured Gary LaBarbera, President of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, James Cahill, President of the New York State Building and Construction Trades Council, and Lou Colletti, President and CEO of the Building Trades Employers’ Association of New York. The panel was moderated by Bill Hohlfeld, Regional Manager of LaborPress.
Hohlfeld began by introducing the panel speakers, noting how Labarbera had “come up through the ranks,” having previouslyserved as President of the New York City Central Labor Council, President of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Joint Council 16, and President of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 282. Hohlfeld also lauded LaBarbera for his involvement in many charitable organizations. Moving on to Cahill, Hohlfeld said how he’d known Cahill for over 30 years, who he said was a “born and bred New Yorker,” who had 48 years in the building and construction trades. Cahill graduated from the Apprentice program of the Steamfitters in 1968 and went on to represent the Steamfitters. Colletti, also a close colleague, said Hohlfeld, has held his current position since 1997.
Hohlfeld told the assembled crowd that there had been a recent commemoration of the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, the deadliest industrial disaster in the history of New York City, and that led into LaBarbera’s discussion of Intro 447, part of proposed legislation that was introduced in the New York City Council in January, in a package of construction safety bills. In 2015-2016, he said, there were 30 construction fatalities in New York City. 90% of those were on non-union construction sites. “We mourn all workers, union and non-union alike,” he said. “We are the voice for all construction workers. Construction is the most dangerous industry in the country,” he added. “Non-union workers are exploited and underpaid.” LaBarbera said facts on these workers’ conditions had been painstakingly collected and could not be denied. Recently, in Long Island City, at a residential development being built non-union, organizers were sent to speak to them, and over 400 workers testified as to the conditions. The lack of safety training is of paramount importance, and it is this that Intro 447 addresses. While union workers must complete rigorous training that serves to protect both them and the public (50 to 700 hours depending on the trade), “These non-union workers and given no training at all,” said LaBarbera. This includes no training on extremely dangerous jobs such as signaling cranes. “They don’t even get PPE – personal protective equipment – they must provide their own,” he added. Intro 447 mandates that all construction workers in NYC must have standard safety training that is commensurate with apprentice training.
“Intro 1447 establishes protections on construction and demolition sites by requiring orientations, industry best practices, and additional worker health and safety trainings and qualifications,” Councilmember Carlos Menchaca [D-38th District], co-sponsor of the effort had said in January in a statement. LaBarbera said, “It’s about protecting workers’ lives.”
Colletti then weighed in on the issue, from the employers’ side. “I agree with Gary that safety is the most important issue,” he said. “I share Gary’s concerns.” He said he supports the training. “In our markets today, cost has become king. We’ve got to turn this around in the city.”
Cahill said, “Millions of dollars are put aside for apprentice training by the unions. None of this comes from the government.” He said that because “the industry is constantly changing,” people must be trained and their training updated.
In the last decade, there have been an estimated 464 on the job construction deaths.
The panel ended on a positive note with a mention of the Helmets to Hardhats Program, which takes retired veterans and veterans and places them directly into an apprentice program. “Over 10 years, thousands have been placed in career paths in the construction industry,” said LaBarbera, who is the founder and chairman of the New York City branch of the program.