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Safety Advocates Urge City to Release Construction Accident Statistics

Construction accidents have skyrocketed over the last year during a period of unmatched building in New York City. It has led to a standoff between safety advocates, politicians and union officials over whether union construction work is safer than non-union work. The debate has been sparked by fierce competition between union and nonunion companies over getting work at the litany of construction sites around the city. What is happening here? Union officials are understandably upset that they are losing work opportunities to nonunion companies. Compounding matters, union officials are looking at the companies who are taking this work from them and they see ineffective and unsafe work. They see workers getting hurt at an alarming rate, a rate completely inconsistent with the number of workers who are injured at a union construction site. Bottom line: nonunion companies are taking jobs and money away from union companies. Competition is not a bad thing. However, safety advocates and union officials feel the playing field is unfair. They think that the competition would be enhanced by everyone having some additional information. They aren't wrong.

It is no secret that union officials and workers have vociferously argued that their workers are more experienced, more skilled and, ultimately, safer. It is also been well documented that nonunion workers have been exposed to great peril while working at construction sites. Often, this has been illuminated in media accounts, particularly in news reports about grisly construction accidents involving undocumented nonunion workers. The efforts of union advocates to persuasively argue their point have been hindered by the lack of available statistics. These statistics, they suggest, would conclusively establish that they are consistently doing it in a safer way. They are now looking for data to illustrate the point that union jobs are safer and they are taking their arguments to local politicians. This data is in the exclusive possession of New York City's Department of Buildings.

The Department of Buildings has released statistics that show that there were nearly twice as many construction injuries in 2015 when compared with 2014. The number of fatal accidents has also dramatically increased. While the D.O.B. is not bashful about disseminating statistics, it does not track nor provide any data about whether construction accidents and fatalities involve union or nonunion work. Would the additional information sought by union advocates further educate us and be helpful? Councilman Jumaane Williams, of Brooklyn, who chairs the Committee on Housing and Buildings, seems to think so. He was quoted in the New York Daily News saying " . . . it could give us data on who's safe and who isn't."

Read the Article Here: NY Daily News

The information would certainly allow union advocates to distinguish the number of injuries taking place on union jobs versus nonunion jobs.

It is our view that there is little to debate here and any statistics will further cement this already obvious point. Union construction work is without a doubt safer.

Why?

Nonunion construction workers are generally the most vulnerable because they lack a voice to stand up for them when faced with an unsafe work environment. A union worker has safety protocols that he or she can rely on and a supervisor whose job description includes standing up for them if they are faced with an unsafe work environment. There are few constraints on an employer who wants to place nonunion workers in an unsafe situation. Union workers have training programs that teach them how to effectively perform their jobs in a safe way. Often, nonunion workers have little to no training and very little experience. Many nonunion construction workers have a limited education and some are unable to speak English. It makes it that much more daunting for them to refuse to work in unsafe conditions. Their wages are also not controlled in any way. Consequently, they are in a worse position to standup for themselves when asked to do something unsafe work.

The statistics would clearly buttress the point that union construction work is safer. But should stop there? Councilman Williams alludes to an interesting idea. He suggests that the statistics can go a step further and allow us to identify companies who statistically appear to perform unsafe work more often than others. It says here that identifying the unsafe companies, nonunion or union, who repeatedly expose vulnerable workers to untold dangers, is a sound idea. This shouldn't be solely about union v. nonunion. It should be about worker safety. Preventing companies who are repeat offenders from continuing to expose their workers to an unsafe environment will make life safer for the construction industry at large.

The City has yet to formally respond to this issue. Here, this information, by shining a light on companies that continue to practice construction in an unsafe manner, may increase worker safety and save lives. It will also certainly permit union officials to statistically point out that they are doing safer work than their nonunion competitors in the construction industry. Neither result is a bad one.

Block O'Toole & Murphy is a law firm that prides itself on fighting for construction workers and their families. The lawyers at the firm have recovered nearly $1 billion in verdicts and settlements for their clients.

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