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Construction Workers in New York Safer -- and Legal

Construction workers in New York and Illinois are better protected than workers in other states, according to a report by McClatchy DC that appeared in ProPublica. Why? According to the story, these two states have strict laws about misclassification of employees as independent contractors, a practice that dishonest construction companies use to underbid those who are paying state and federal taxes and insurance.

A study revealed that40 percent of construction workers are misclassified in some southern states. New York State, in contrast, has created a Joint Enforcement Task Force to uncover instances of worker misclassification in 2007. Prior to the establishment of the task force, at least one in ten workers was misclassified, according to Cornell University researchers. The practice was especially common in the construction industry. A 2010 law, Construction Industry Fair Play Act, increased the penalties for misclassification.

As a result, the number of misclassified employees in New York has declined dramatically because enforcement actions have made employers unwilling to risk the penalties. According to the article, New York and Illinois, which established a task force in 2012, receive much more tax revenue and experience far few workplace injuries and deaths than states that are lenient about misclassification of employees.

These improvements were accomplished because unions and legislators in the two states worked together. This alliance also resulted in stricter laws about worker safety. Finally, it became clear that experienced and trained workers were more likely to know how to avoid accidents and injuries, resulting in lower rates of workplace accidents in the two states.

One reason that New York was able to implement better rules and safety regulations for construction workers was the strong union presence in the state. Unions are known to send out investigators to ensure that every worker at a building site or other workplace is properly classified. Knowing that they are being watched has kept employers more honest.

Source: ProPublica, "How New York and Illinois Curb a Key Labor Violation While Other States Fall Short," Sep. 4, 2014.