October 29, 2013
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – A new bill slated to improve safety standards in an industry that claimed the lives of 36 construction workers and 13 others in New York City between 2011 and 2012, is now winding its way through the City Council with broad support from elected officials, citizen advocacy groups and organized labor. Watch Video
“The misconception that this is [exclusively] a union bill can go right out the window,” Councilwoman Diana Reyner,” said in advance of Monday morning’s hearing on the Safe Jobs Act. “What we do know is that we have an exploitation of immigrants in our city and we have to protect them. And we have to join together to make sure we’re not going to exploit any one individual – but that we are building the next generation of construction and industry workers across the board.”
Intro. 1169, the measure which Reyna is sponsoring, would require developers receiving large public subsidies to participate in state-approved safety training programs, while also improving transparency and accountability.
“Construction, maintenance and security work in New York City is dangerous,” said Joel Shufro, executive director of NYCOSH – New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health. “Workers in these occupations are killed or injured at rates well above the national average. And construction workers in New York City are killed at rates far above the rest of the state. Requiring that workers on city subsidized projects are appropriately trained will go a long way to ensuring that employers provide safe and healthful workplaces.”
According to studies conducted by Washington, DC-based advocacy group Public Citizen, 36 construction workers in New York City lost their lives between 2011 and 2012 after being crushed, hit with an object, falling or suffering some other calamity while on the job – all at an estimated cost of $187.2 million. At the same time, 13 New York City maintenance workers was also killed, at a cost of another $67 million.
“Injuries and fatalities are a burden on the economy, they’re a burden on industry and most of all, they’re a burden on families,” said Keith Wrightson, Worker Safety & Health Advocate, Public Citizen. “Nobody should die when they go to work. Everyone should take their hardhat, dust it off and walk away.”
Supporters of the Safe Jobs Act are confident that the measure now before the City Council will help reduce the high injury and fatality rate among construction and associated workers, while also benefitting the city in the form of lower insurance costs, less down time and other indirect costs.
“It is only right that we demand that contractors who receive public subsidies or incentives are accountable and transparent,” Shufro added.
New York City Councilmember Mark Weprin said a safe workplace should be a “human right.”
“You should know that if you’re working on behalf of the City of New York, and a developer is getting government subsidies, there should be a basic understanding that you should do it safely – and that workers are protected and not risking their lives in order to make our city a better place,” Councilmember Weprin said.
Each year, New York City taxpayers provide private developers with over $2 billion in public subsidies.
“Our ethos is simple,” said ALIGN Executive Director Matt Ryan. “Whenever we invest public money, we should create public good. One of the easiest places we can start is looking at worker safety.”
Maria Espinal, a millwright with Local 740, said that she risks her life every time she steps on the worksite. That, and being a hardpressed Bay Ridge homeowner, makes passage of the Safe Jobs Act doubly important to her.
“It’s really important that we take safety first,” Espianal said. “This legislation is also extremely important to me because I am a taxpayer in New York. I want to know where my tax dollars are going. I want to know that when my city tax dollars are going to support a project, that that project is taking care of the worker. And that there is accountability for that money. I believe [this act] save lives. I hope that we can pass it.”