On last night’s edition of Blue Collar Buzz, we spoke with Councilman Carlos Menchaca. who was one of the co-sponsors
of Intro 1447 –C bill, which is commonly referred to as the construction safety bill. I openly applauded the councilman for taking an early an unequivocal position on this legislation, as well as for his efforts to see that it was signed into law. I still do.
Yet, if you listened to our exchange on the program, while I agree with the position that anything we do in the effort to save lives is worthwhile, I also expressed my skepticism over whether or not construction workers will be genuinely protected, or just treated to a new round of optics, while still allowing REBNY to walk away from the table with their usual profits and even less accountability.
The city has created a task force. Oh no! As anyone knows who has doggedly attended committee meetings, they are the place where far too often, good ideas go to die. My first concern comes, not surprisingly, from REBNY in the form of a statement by its esteemed president, John banks “The first concern is simple: does New York City have the adequate capacity to train up to 120,000 non-union construction workers? The answer to this question is just a simple — no.” (REBNY Watch column.)
Frankly, that is not only an incorrect answer, it also strikes me as a pretty silly question. Anyone who has lived in New York City as long as Mr. Banks has, should be able to readily access the answer: The New York City Building Trades. Here is an incontrovertible fact. 80% of all deaths in the construction industry take place on non-union jobs. If the developers used unionized contractors, there would be an immediate 80% drop in fatalities. As hard as it is to double talk your way around that statistic, REBNY seems to be doing a pretty good job of it; a much better job, in fact, than they are of saving lives by having their buildings built by a workforce that is better trained, better equipped and less fearful of speaking out because of their immigration status.
I know there are many out there who feel safer if they give the disclaimer that “this isn’t about union vs. non- union; this is about human lives. I’m not one of them. The truth is that it is about unionizing the workforce, because that’s precisely what saves lives.
So, drop the optics. Disband the task force. Give workers the Employee Free Choice Act, (remember that?) which will make it easier to organize workers. Organized workers enjoy the right to a voice on the job, and are not afraid to speak out when unsafe conditions exist. Give the American people sane and just immigration reform so that the hard working people who want so badly to be part of the American fabric can have a legal path to citizenship, and not be used as a permanent underclass that can be exploited and subsequently drive down wages. (Feel free to send packing whatever dangerous criminals you uncover in the process.) Strengthen prevailing wage laws so that every project that has its roots in IDA funding is subject to Davis-Bacon styled legislation. Roll back Taft-Hartley restrictions on sympathy strikes and secondary boycotts so that workers can support one another across industry lines without fear of reprisals.
Let’s unabashedly announce our intention to bring union market share back up to the 80-85% it once was, because though being reactionary isn’t normally my approach, if we can refrain from tip-toeing around the sensibilities of the big money interests for just a moment, we can get real. The stark reality is that when the New York skyline was being built union, there were fewer fatalities, a better standard of living for those who built it, and a broader tax base that provided much needed revenue to Federal, State and Municipal governments. It might also be mentioned that due to the hard work and vigilance of not only government agencies, but the building trades themselves, the memberships of these unions more than adequately reflect the diverse population of this city and its surrounding suburbs.
Are you genuinely interested in saving lives? If you are, build union.