Labor: Safety Reforms Do Not Come At the Cost of Construction Jobs!

February 13, 2017
By Joe Maniscalco

Powerful interests have taken aim at the Construction Safety Act.

New York, NY - In the last two years, when construction workers have died on mostly non-union job sites throughout the city, it’s largely been communities of color who have been left to pick up the pieces. But that isn’t stopping opponents of the new Construction Safety Act from advancing the glaringly specious argument that legislative reforms now before the New York City Council will somehow limit opportunities for minority workers — and that has organized labor saying, “no way.”

The group of safety reforms bundled under the umbrella of the Construction Safety Act and introduced in the City Council on January 18, only came after the City of New York watched as many as 30 construction workers — many of them non-union immigrants — die on the job in the last two years alone. 

“Industries like construction are already being jeopardized by the emergence of contractors that are absolutely indifferent to the lives of working people,” 32BJ SEIU President Hector Figueroa said at an afternoon press conference launching the five-point Empire State Working Family Protection Platform on Friday.

In its 2017 report on fatalities in the construction industry, the New York Committee on Occupational Safety & Health [NYCOSH] found that Latinos suffer disproportionately on non-union job sites that are both more dangerous and have twice as many violations as their union counterparts.

In helping to launch the Empire State Working Family Protection Platform last week, NYCOSH President Charlene Obernauer said, “No worker should be injured because an abusive employer decided to cut corners on safety to save a dollar.”

But with the momentum finally on the side of enhanced safety and apprentice training on at least some major construction projects around town — big money interests, including the New York Construction Alliance, are betting they can convince members of the New York City Council  to think twice about pushing new legislation through. 

On the last episode of LaborPress’ Blue Collar Buzz, James Mahoney, president of the New York State District Council of Ironworkers, challenged the argument, saying lucrative construction companies simply “do not want safety involved in these jobs.”

On Friday, John Skinner, political & legislative director for Ironworkers Local 46, further skewered those opposed to construction safety reforms. 

Hector Figueroa, 32BJ president, advocates for safety reforms in the construction industry.

“The immigrants that came before the undocumented workers in construction today were lucky enough to get into a trade union in the early 1900s and so on,” Skinner said. “And now, they're talking about another standard of wage for the next group of immigrants that comes in. So, the Irish and Italians and the Polish and the Germans and the folks that came in during the early 19th century…they were entitled to one wage in construction. Now, because it's Latino immigrants, we should lower that wage on affordable housing and they should have to take less to do the same jobs? I don't know about you — but I consider that racism.”

In addition to advancing stronger safety requirements and apprentice training, organized labor and other worker advocates also want to increase the fines for construction companies complicit in the deaths of workers on the job. 

Last year, Harco Construction, LLC was ordered to pay a meager $10,000 fine after the general contacted was convicted of manslaughter in the 2015 death of 22-year-old construction worker Carlos Moncayo. 

“We don't want to see anymore accidents happen to our people in the City of New York,” fellow construction worker Mauricio Jimenez said on Friday. “We need Albany to take action. We are also getting sick in our places of work. We don't want to see cases like Carlos Moncayo reoccurring where someone dies and it is not treated as a felony. It should be treated as a criminal act. And the fine should not be capped at something pathetic like $10,000. We need to take people's lives into account.”

According to NYCOSH, New York saw nealry 500 construction workers die on the job in the last decade. 

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