February 2, 2016
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – Last week’s horrific construction site accident on West 17th Street in which a 55-year-old worker was impaled on exposed rebar after falling four stories down an elevator shaft on a non-union job, has given fuel to pending legislation requiring apprentice level training on all building projects in the city 10-stories and above.
Critics of the new measure argue that the bill would not be effective because most of the fatalities that have occurred on New York City construction sites over the last few years have involved structures below 10 stories.
But Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, who along with Council Member Corey Johnson [D-3rd District], is spearheading the apprentice training bill, says that the specifics of the pending legislation are still being hammered out, and should not delay decisive action.
“That accident [on West 17th Street] says it all,” Brewer told LaborPress this week. “Our bill would have covered this building. We need much more training.”
The Department of Buildings, however, has proven resistant to renewed calls for enhanced safety measures, arguing that the agency is already taking important steps to address increasingly dangerous conditions.
Safety advocates, however, are not convinced that there are enough regulators at any level of government to do the job properly.
Charlene Obernauer, executive director of the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health, recently told truthout.com that it would take 113 federal inspectors “107 years to inspect each workplace on time.”
Organized labor insists that without union training and protections, New York City construction workers are just too vulnerable to life threatening situations, and that the Manhattan borough president’s apprentice bill is vitally necessary.
“It’s going to save lives,” James Mahoney, president of the District Council of Ironworkers told LaborPress. “Sixteen people died last year, and the majority of them, if not al of them, were either Hispanic or Black. Many of them undocumented, and all of them in fear of losing their jobs if they spoke out under the conditions they’re working under. Unions don’t have that problem.”
Despite the pushback, Brewer is optimistic that a fully-drafted apprentice training bill can get a City Council hearing sometime this year.
“Time is of the essence,” she said.