July 19, 2016
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – News that New York’s construction industry is firing on all cylinders is bad news for opponents of Scaffold Law 240 — or at least it should be.
Last week, Brian Brown, an attorney who specializes in representing construction workers who have had their lives shattered on job sites througout New York, told LaborPress’ “Blue Collar Buzz” that efforts to “reform” the state’s 100-year-old Scaffold Law has become something of a “rite of passage” in Albany and that he doesn’t expect that sorry situation to change.
That’s despite effective counter-legislative efforts calling out big-pocketed developers who insist the existence of New York’s Scaffold Law is driving up insurance costs and hindering new construction.
Claims that a statute protecting the welfare of construction workers injured in devastating worksite accidents is hurting the pocketbooks of builders is laughable considering construction generated $61 billion of economic activity in New York City alone last year. That’s up seven percent from the year prior, according to the New York Building Congress.
The New York City Department of Buildings also authorized construction of 56,528 residential units in 2015— a 180 percent increase over 2014, and the sixth consecutive year in which the number of permits issued outpaced the previous 12 months.
Then there’s the more than 300 local jobs produced in 2015, as well as the highest level of construction employment in 40 years.
But while those construction jobs are a godsend for workers, many of them are also incredibly dangerous — even more dangerous than being a New York City police officer. Last year, a staggering 471 deaths and accidents were recorded on construction sites throughout New York.
Most accidents didn’t make headlines, but they do involve real people with real lives that are often irrevocably altered or destroyed outright.
They include people like Local 40 Irownworker Christopher Gunn, who at 28, suffered profound brain and spinal cord injuries after plummeting 25 feet onto his head when a beam he was helping to install broke loose on a job site near Bellevue Hospital back in 2008.
“He was an incredible kid; always active, always teasing, always laughing,” John Gunn, Sr. told LaborPress in 2013. “He was always a go-getter from when he was a little boy. I remember him wanting to be around people, wanting to do things and learn. He learned like a sponge. He always wanted to be the best at what he did – and he was that. Unfortunately, somebody pulled the rug out from under him.”
A few years ago, Dutchess County dad George Nechifor survived a terrible fall that left him alive and mobile — but in so much intense pain that he was unable to continue working in the construction trades.
“I can't work for more than a half-hour at a time," the now 48-year-old Nechifor told LaborPress. "There's not a single job in the world for me now."
And some construction workers never come home to their families at all.
Two years ago, a construction worker working on top of a scaffold erected at West 55th Street near Broadway, plunged almost 100 feet to his death. Just two weeks later, another construction worker using a scaffold at West 33rd Street, also fell to his death.
“We will be picking people off the street if this law is not enforced,” Joel Shufro, former executive director of the New York Committee for Occupational Safety & Health [NYCOSH] told LaborPress in 2014.
Even then, Shufro said there was absolutely “no indication” that New York’s Scaffold Law was “holding back construction.”
Assembly Member Francisco Moya [D-39th District], sponsor of legislation compelling Scaffold Law opponents to open up their books to demonstrate losses due to the 100-year-old measure, agreed.
"Time and again, we hear about how the Scaffold Law is somehow killing businesses here," Assemblyman Moya told LaborPress. "Well, [scaffold accidents] are [absolutely] killing workers here in the great State of New York.”
Earlier this month, the Building Council of Westchester demonstrated Brown’s ongoing concerns with NY Scaffold Law opponents when the upstate organization revved up its efforts to “reform” the 100-year-old protective measure, claiming the statute is somehow costing New York taxpayers $785 million each year.
The figure is highly debatable, however, and can — and is — being interpreted in a myriad of ways. Whereas, the injuries and fatal accidents construction workers continue to suffer in falls throughout the state, are not. They are as hard as concrete.