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New Report: Low-Road Developers, Contractors Still Enjoy Taxpayer Money

New York, NY – Construction workers in this town are routinely abused, exploited and have their lives put in mortal jeopardy — but that isn’t stopping the greedy developers and the hired contractors responsible for the daily atrocities from feasting on the public dole. Not one little bit.

Unionized construction workers, in 2015, carry symbolic coffins to protest ongoing deaths in NYC’s construction industry.

The 2019 edition of  “Deadly Skyline” — the New York Committee for Occupational Safety & Health’s latest look at construction fatalities across New York State, contains lots of sobering findings. 

Construction fatalities across New York State, for instance, are rising, while the death rate amongst city workers is actually trending down; older workers and Latinos are more likely to die on the job than anybody else; and non-union workers — no matter where they work — continue to constitute the overwhelming majority of workers killed on private job sites. 

What should prove to be particularly galling to the taxpaying public, however, is the stunning reality that low-road developers and contractors responsible for some of the most egregious examples of worker exploitation continue to be eligible for government subsidies. 

As NYCOSH’s new report states, “If a worker dies in a fatal fall because they were not wearing a harness, the employer would likely be fined something like $21,644 (the average fine for a construction fatality in New York State). The employer, despite these fines, would still be eligible to receive government subsides for the development projects — regardless of their history of serious or willful violations.”

“Deadly Skyline” goes on to find that on OSHA-Inspected job sites where workers have died —employers had coinciding violations “100 percent of the time.”

“NYCOSH analyzed OSHA-inspected construction fatality cases in New York State in 2017 and found that 100 percent of construction worker fatalities coincided with OSHA violations,” the NYCOSH report states. “[Bureau of Labor Statistics] data indicates that there were 69 fatalities in New York State in 2017; OSHA inspected 30 of those fatality sites and out of the 25 sites where data was publicly available, safety violations were found. 2017 data shows what prior years have also shown, that deaths on the job are often preventable. Given these statistics and the 100-percent likelihood that safety citations follow construction fatalities, it is a reasonable extrapolation that in any construction fatality, the death was preventable.”

Crooked construction outfits that endanger the lives of workers and cheat them out of hard-earned wages can be disbarred — or temporarily prevented from doing getting work on public projects. 

In 2015, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer touted his office’s record of disbarring 21 groups found to have violated prevailing wage laws, and securing settlements totaling more than $8.6 million.

Just prior to that, however, then Committee on Housing & Buildings Chair Jumaane Williams, criticized similar attempts at reprimanding bad actors in the construction industry as constituting little more than administering a “time-out,” before letting them resume business as usual.

“We have to find a way to punish them, and I’m not sure that has happened the way it is set up here,” Williams said at the time. 

Indeed, “Deadly Skyline” concludes that “employers need to believe that there are serious consequences to their misbehavior.” 

The report continues, “As stated above, the average OSHA fine amount in a construction fatality case in 2017 was just $21,644. With such minor fines, employers will continue to cut corners on workers’ safety, because it’s easier and often cheaper than following applicable regulations, and simply considered ‘the cost of doing business.’”

To remedy the situation — and to “ensure that low-road contractors are not subsidized by government dollars”— NYCOSH is calling on both the city and state to “pass subsidy procurement reform that disallows bad actors to receive public funding.”

The group is also advocating reform that “mandates that all public funds are tied to prevailing wages, training programs, and a local hiring program that works for the people who build this city. Further, the City and State should ensure that developers receiving subsides do not hire subcontractors who have had egregious violations.”

Click here to read the complete “Deadly Skyline” report. 

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