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Unions Help Prevent Construction Accidents

A recent blog post from the president of Steamfitters Local Union 638 summarizes the dangers of working construction in NYC. In particular, the blog focuses on the year 2012, which was one of the worst in recent years in terms of fatal construction accidents.

There were six construction fatalities in 2011 and 21 in 2012, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). A majority of the deaths occurred on non-union site, illustrating the critical role of unions in keeping workers safe.

Construction in NYC is a huge business. The Building Congress predicts that the city will see $32 billion in construction spending in 2013. The industry anticipates at least 130,600 construction jobs in 2014. Estimated spending on commercial construction, is expected to jump 38% this year.

The writer notes that unionized construction workers are clearly safer because of training and apprenticeship programs as well as continuing education provided by unions. The result is far fewer stop-work orders on unionized sites. It also means fewer injuries, fewer insurance claims and fewer injury lawsuits.

Despite the clear advantages of hiring unionized contractors, many construction sites in NYC are operated by out-of-state contractors who employ untrained day laborers and often do not pay required insurance premiums. These workers seldom receive important safety training and often are unequipped with standard safety gear.

According to the AFL-CIO, undocumented workers face an increased risk of injury. They often fear retaliation is they report safety violations and illegal working conditions. Keeping track of injuries to undocumented workers is often difficult, as shady employers frequently do not report accidents, especially when injuries are not life-threatening.

Despite statistics showing the safety benefits of unionized job sites, fly-by-night contractors are on the increase in New York City. Not only are these employers putting workers at risk, but are also creating a shoddy product because of cost-cutting at all levels. Such construction does not last long, and often must be replaced early, eliminating the cost-savings advertised by these companies.

For both economic and safety reasons, building owners should hire only unionized construction companies for their projects. According to the author, this is the message of Labor Day.

Source: Huffington Post, "Keeping Workers Safe, On Labor Day and Every Day," by Patrick Dolan, Jr., Dep. 4, 2013.