Members of the City Council are weighing a series of proposed laws that are focused on improving worker safety in the construction industry. The new laws are gaining momentum as the plight of the construction worker is being played out in local media outlets. The media, though slow to report on this ongoing problem, has recently revealed that more than 30 workers have died in construction accidents over the past 2 years. This has sparked some – but not enough – public outrage and has galvanized local leaders to try and make a change.
One of the proposed changes would require workers to undergo training in an apprentice program before they were able to perform certain jobs at a construction site. The idea, according to Housing and Building Committee Chair Jumaane Williams, Councilmember Carlos Menchaca and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, is that mandating that workers are equipped with the necessary experience, skills and training will make for a safer work environment. Well-trained workers are generally known to be safer workers, or so it goes.
This seems like a pretty easy concept to embrace. But, nothing is simple around here.
There is the friction between union and nonunion labor. Union construction workers already have rigorous training requirements an apprentice programs in place. They are generally not the companies who are involved in the flagrant safety violation work sites. The unions applaud the idea of an apprentice program because it increases the likelihood that more union jobs would be available. Nonunion jobs obviously have a different view. Most nonunion employers have a far more relaxed training regimen. Some simply require that you can fill out an application and have a will to work. The training program proposed in these laws may have a crippling effect on some small businesses. It would increase their overhead as well as the time it would take to complete a job. That can’t be ignored but it says here that saving lives is more important than propping up nonunion construction outfits who are prioritizing the profits of their company over the safety of its workers.
Why does this matter? According to an editorial in the New York Daily News, penned by Gary Labarbera, the President of the Building & Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, nonunion workers are far more likely to lose their lives while working. Labarbera – – who is not without an agenda in this fight – – uses objective statistics to plainly and convincingly back up his case. He cites a study which concluded that more than 75% of construction deaths that recently occurred in New York took place at nonunion job sites. More than 75%! What is striking about that figure is that non-union construction work is about 25% of the total work being performed in New York. 25% of the work but more than 75% of the deaths. That is a sad and revealing figure. This same study revealed that safety violations existed at 90% of the sites where construction deaths had taken place. Labarbera argues that the critical distinction between non-union jobs where fatalities are occurring and the safer union work is the failure of nonunion employers to properly emphasize safety training.
Is there a good argument that we are better off with an inadequately trained workforce? How can there be?
If there is a proven formula that will limit the number of fatal accidents and save lives then it is incumbent upon the City Council to find a way to pass these laws. Make the jobsite safer for the worker who doesn’t have a voice.
This isn’t about politics. This isn’t about being pro-union. This is about being pro-human.
Block O’Toole & Murphy is a law firm that is committed to fighting on behalf of injured construction workers. They have recovered more than $1 billion in verdicts and settlements for their clients. You may reach them for a free consultation at any time by calling 212.736 that 5300.