June 9 , 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 – When opponents of New York’s Scaffold Law charge that existing regulations protecting workers involved in worksite accidents are causing insurance costs to balloon – defenders have a succinct response: "Fine. Put up, or shut up."
Assemblyman Francisco Moya [D-39th District] is carrying a bill in the State Legislature known as the Construction Insurance Transparency Act, which he hopes to bring out of committee and onto the floor for a vote sometime this year.
If enacted, the measure would compel giant insurance companies hoping to rewrite NY’s Scaffold Law to first crack open their books.
“My bill would actually talk about how the insurance companies who are claiming that they can’t do business here because the insurance premiums are so high due to Labor Law 240,” Assemblyman Moya says. “Well, we’re asking them to open up their books. Show us and demonstrate to us what those actual payout are before we even talk about repeal, reform, or anything else like that.”
Language in the "Construction Insurance Transparency Act of 2014" requires insurers providing coverage for liability under the Scaffold Law, to start reporting their finances and paid claims to the state superintendent of financial services every year.
The measure has over 20 co-sponsors in the Assembly, and has already served as an effective pushback against those seeking to gut the Scaffold Law because they believe the safety measure has somehow become too expensive.
“Frankly, I don't believe a word of it until the insurance companies can show me what's on their books,” says Jack Kittle, political director, District Council 9. “I think this is a shield they have for raising the costs.”
Others who routinely deal with injured workers struggling to put their lives back together following horrific scaffold-related accidents, share the same wary pessimism.
“They just want us to believe them,” says attorney David Perecman. “Well, can we see your books? Can we actually see where Labor Law 240 costs you what you say it costs – and that there’s a reason for you to be increasing your premiums?”
Even if Labor Law 240 is changed, worker advocates seriously doubt that lower premiums will actually result.
“The question really becomes, if you change this law, is it really going to decrease the premiums?” Perecman says. “More important, is it going to be an invitation for you guys, who frankly don’t do things too safely with the law the way it is now – to really just blame it on the worker?”
Ultimately, defenders of NY’s Scaffold Law contend that changing existing protections will certainly save construction companies big money – but at the cost of shredding the safety net for injured workers who end up paralyzed or with costly spinal infusion pumps implanted in their bodies.
“You know who is going to get the benefit out of this?” Perecman says. “AIG, ACE Insurance, Turner Construction, Bovis. Tishman – it’s the big boys with the big money. That’s where 99 percent of this is going to end up.”