New York, NY – Trade unionists and their counterparts in the nonunion building sector teamed up this week, to demand an end to the ongoing exploitation of vulnerable workers throughout the construction industry — but the de Blasio administration insists that it has already begun enforcing a “new generation of labor standards” aimed at cleaning up the mess.
“How many more [nonunion construction workers] must get told, “You get a break when you go home?’ How many more must be told, ‘We don’t have your check this week, we don’t offer benefits, we don’t offer pensions — and if you don’t like these terms or you don’t like working in these unsafe working conditions — you can just leave,’” Joe Scopo, lead organizer for Cement and Concrete Workers District Council 16, told construction workers rallying outside the 7th Avenue offices of New Line Structures on Tuesday.
New Line Structures is the latest nonunion contractor the Cement and Concrete Workers District Council 16 and its Building Trades allies have singled out for its relentless pursuit of so-called “open shop” development — a corrosive building trend that not only torpedoes good middle-class jobs and creates a race to the bottom — but costs nonunion construction workers wages, benefits and even their lives.
According to the New York Committee for Occupational Health & Safety [NYCOSH], 93-percent of construction workers killed in 2017 alone, were working on nonunion job sites.
“Almost every single worker who died, died on a site that was nonunion — what does that tell you?” NYCOSH Executive Director Charlene Obernauer told the hundreds of workers rallying between W. 37 and W. 38th streets. “That tells you, first of all, greed kills. Second of all, unsafe jobs are nonunion jobs. And third of all, every time that someone like New Line subcontracts out their work to nonunion job sites — they’re contributing to the deaths of workers.”
City Council Member Francisco Moya [D-21st District], cited the deaths of 69 construction workers since 2017, saying, “We’re done with [nonunion contractors] putting profit over people.”
“The skyline of New York should be built on the sweat — not the blood of its workers,” Moya said. “But [nonunion contractors] think that’s the price of doing business in the City of New York. No more. It’s time to stand up and fight for what’s right.”
Juan Carlos Diaz and other members from NICE — New Immigrant Community Empowerment — said that they spent six months doing electrical work for a New Line Structures subcontractor called PEI Electrical Services, but never saw half the money they are owed.
“We were always told to just keep waiting and waiting — ‘We’re going to finish, and then you’ll get paid,’” Diaz said. “The laws are not enough to protect our rights. We’re here to ask for stronger laws that punish contractors who are cheating workers.”
City Council Member Ben Kallos [D-5th District], co-chair of the Progressive Caucus, called on guilty contractors to make restitution or face a lawsuit.
“We need to make sure that when we are building our city’s skyline, we’re doing it at prevailing wage [and] we’re not making the affordable housing crisis worse,” Kallos added.
Despite the proliferation of nonunion construction, a spokesperson for Mayor de Blasio once again told LaborPress that New York City remains a “union town” and that the administration continues to “fight to uplift all workers, both union and nonunion alike.”
“This Administration has taken unprecedented steps to address workplace safety, from implementing a first-of-its-kind safety training program for the city’s construction workforce to adding 250 additional inspectors to stepping up our enforcement against bad actors and conducting more proactive safety inspections of construction sites across the city,” the spokesperson said in an email.
City’s stats indicate construction-related accidents and construction-related injuries are down 14.3-percent and 13.2 respectively over the last year. The same stats also show 11 construction workers killed so far this year, as opposed to 16 killed last year.
The mayor’s spokesperson continued, “In addition, our Office of Labor and Policy Standards — the largest municipal labor standards office in the country — enforces a new generation of labor standards for a stronger city and educates workers, employers and the public about workplace laws so that all New Yorkers have access to information on their rights. We encourage any worker in need to reach out by calling 311 to get connected with resources.”
Those efforts, however, in addition to the administration’s stabs at doing other things like quadrupling fines for safety lapses, increasing safety supervision on thousands of additional sites across the city, demanding new education requirements on the job site, conducting targeted citywide construction safety sweeps, as well as creating a Construction Safety Compliance Unit, are all viewed as little more than Band-Aid approaches to those convinced so-called “open-shop” development is killing New York City in more ways than one.
“We want to make sure that people on the job know what they’re doing, that they have the chance to learn on the job through apprenticeship and they have the training they need to make sure they are safe — everyone else is safe, and they have a shop steward who can keep them safe when they get asked to do something that is dangerous,” Kallos added on Tuesday.
Local Law 196 does require all workers on major construction sites to have at least 30 hours of site-safety training with supervisors needing at least 62 hours of training. But the measure was passed two years ago, after a beating from the Real Estate Board of New York and its allies, and has yet to be fully enacted.
“If a product is cheap, it doesn’t work right, and nonunion contractors are an example of that,” Scopo said. “They are a cheap product that doesn’t work right. [Unions] are the best to take care of working people, [nonunion contractors] can’t say that in their sector. We do it right, and we deserve all the work.”