NYC official urges city to classify construction site accidents as union or nonunion

Dive Brief:

  • Amid a spate of construction deaths and accidents, the chair of New York City's Committee on Housing and Buildings is calling on the city to classify construction safety incidents as either union or nonunion, according to the New York Daily News.
  • Union proponents have long maintained that their workforce is better trained and safer, so Councilman Jumaane Williams said tracking accidents by whether or not the workers are union or nonunion could provide real data on "who’s safe and who isn’t."
  • There were 433 accidents and 471 injuries on construction sites in 2015, according to the Daily News — twice the number that the city recorded in 2014. According to the Department of Buildings, there were also 12 construction site deaths, up from eight in 2014.

Dive Insight:

In response to the rise in job site accidents and injuries, the New York City Department of Buildings upped its enforcement efforts and issued more than 4,580 stop-work orders in the first half of 2016. This was a 23% increase from the first six months of 2015. While it's clear that inspectors have been erring on the side of caution, critics of the DOB's stricter policy have complained that there are no written guidelines about stop-work orders and that inspectors are too quick to issue them.

In addition, after a series of crane accidents in the city — including one that killed a pedestrian on a Manhattan street in February — Mayor Bill de Blasio initiated tighter safety procedures that allowed for higher fines for crane safety violations. The city's new rules also included increased neighborhood notice requirements about crane use in the area and limitations on crane operations in windy conditions.

According to an April Wall Street Journal report, unions are starting to lose their grip on private markets in typically union-centric markets, such as New York. Major companies in the city like Tishman Construction and Turner Construction have passed on renewing certain collective bargaining union labor agreements for private work, indicating they’re planning to use less expensive nonunion workers on future projects. Part of the unions' justification for higher wages is that their workers provide a higher quality and safer product than their nonunion counterparts. However, proponents of the merit shop philosophy contest that claim and say nonunion job sites are just as safe.

The increase in construction deaths and injuries also drove the New York County Attorney General Cyrus Vance Jr.  to form a construction fraud task force, which targets all kinds of malfeasance and unsafe practices among construction companies operating in New York. The main driver behind the task force was the April 2015 death of 22-year-old immigrant worker Carlos Moncayo in a jobsite trench collapse. Prosecutors won a conviction against general contractor Harco Construction in the Moncayo incident. The judge also sentenced Harco to pay for an English-Spanish public safety ad campaign, but Harco refused to comply and said it planned to appeal the conviction.

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Filed Under: Commercial Building Residential Building Legal/Regulation
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