September 24, 2014
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – A new package of Building Code amendments that its sponsors in the City Council hope will make construction in the big city safer for both workers and the public, is being closely scrutinized this week, but the Department of Buildings has some serious reservations about the legislation that could bring it all crashing down.
On Monday, September 22, Department of Buildings Commissioner Rick Chandler told the Committee on Housing and Buildings that the group of amendments seeking in part to require riggers and crane operators to have New York City-specific experience as a condition of certification, would hamper construction and create other problems for the city.
“This legislation would eliminate the option for a national certification which may limit the pool of qualified workers when the certification requirement goes into effect in 2016,” Chandler said.
Monday’s City Hall hearings were Chandler’s first after being appointed in July. The new commissioner assumes the important role of DOB chief with the stated aim of speeding the building permit process – and the last thing the de Blasio administration wants to hear is anything that could slow implementation of the mayor’s plan to build or maintain 200,000 units of affordable housing over the next decade.
In addition to potentially limiting the pool of qualified workers, the DOB commissioner also suggested that proposed changes to the rules might result in “building owners deferring necessary maintenance and leaving sidewalk sheds in front of their buildings for extended periods of time without any work occurring.”
But freshman Councilmember Ben Kallos (D-5th Councilmanic District), one of the sponsors of the new amendment package, challenged the legitimacy of national certification, and the Bloomberg-era notion that certifying riggers and crane operations without New York City experience is a smart idea.
“It is frankly irresponsible that the city would allow the most critical of construction activities such as rigging and hoisting or crane operation, be conducted or supervised by inexperienced and less competent individuals,” the councilman representing Manhattan’s east side said. “The changes to the rigging language included in last year’s revisions reduce competency and oversight, and must be amended to protect public safety and the safety of our workers.”
Others on the committee, including Councilmember Elizabeth Crowley (D-30th Councilmanic District), Councilmember Antonio Reynoso (D-34th Councilmanic District) and panel chair Jumaane Williams (D-45th Councilmanic District), shared similar concerns.
Allen Wright, political director, International Union of Operating Engineers Local 14, later said that he thought that DOB officials appeared ambivalent about their own arguments, as well as national certification rules originating during the Bloomberg administration.
“We are hopeful the council will move to pass this bill which will provide the city with authority and oversight to ensure the safety of those in the construction industry and all New Yorkers,” Wright told LaborPress.
A representative for New York City Central Labor Council President Vincent Alvarez also urged the full council to support New York City-centered certification, calling the city’s construction workers the “best trained, most skilled and safest in the nation.”