June 16, 2014
By Joe Maniscalco
Editor’s Note: The following is part of an ongoing LaborPress series examining the ways in which efforts to weaken New York’s Scaffold Law jeopardize workers.
New York, NY – Worker advocates have many reactions when they hear that opponents of the state’s Scaffold Law want to overturn the measure because insurance costs are allegedly too expensive for the construction industry to bear. But one of the things they specifically ask is, “Why not just make worksites safer?”
“You would diminish I don’t know how many accidents,” says John Merlino, an injury attorney at the law firm of Dinkes & Schwitzer. “Fewer accidents would mean fewer lawsuits and smaller premiums. It’s a full circle.”
Union job sites are demonstrably safer than their non-union counterparts. Intensive job training and worker safety are the hallmarks of union apprenticeship programs across the United States, and widely considered to be the gold standard in the industry.
Conversely, most of the deaths that have occurred on New York City construction sites over the last few years, have happened on non-union projects that did not offer state-approved training and apprenticeship programs.
In cold dollars and cents, the economic cost to New York City ran over $180 million, according to a Public Citizen report issuer earlier this year.
The de Blasio administration is currently in the midst of launching a $41 billion affordable housing plan that seeks to build 80,000 new units over the next 10 years. The need for truly affordable housing is clear: More than half of New Yorkers are officially rent burdened – meaning they are forced to devote more than a third of their resources to housing alone.
However, aside from tinkering with the Bloomberg administration’s old 80-20 development model, the current administration’s plans to spur new building – with Goldman Sachs executive Alicia Glen installed as deputy mayor of Housing and Economic Development – don’t appear radically different from what the city has already seen in the past.
For instance, instead of taking bold steps to ensure approved training and apprenticeship programs are part and parcel of the anticipated construction – the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York is currently negotiating hard with the city just for a seat at the table. And they are being required to dramatically drop union wages to get there.
That reality stands in stark contrast to the call Matt D’Amico, regional coordinator for CSEA Local 1000, AFSCME, AFL-CIO, made on May Day when he urged elected officials to pass a new law mandating that every construction job in the city is union built.
“We are sick and tired of seeing workers abused and exploited by big contractors who only care about the almighty dollar,” D’Amico said. “And we’re tired of politicians not standing up and doing the right thing. Every construction job in this city should be union.”
The New York City Council’s Safe Jobs Act [Intro 1169-2013] requiring training for all construction workers on tax-payer funded projects, could help – but is presently languishing.
“Plain and simple – every job in job in this city should be union – Merlino adds. “Union laborers are skilled laborers, and you would see fewer accidents.”