NYC officials set to propose controversial new construction safety requirements

Dive Brief:

  • The New York City Council is expected to present safety-related legislation later this month that could dramatically change how construction companies in the city hire and manage their workforces, according to Politico.
  • The bills would mandate that city contractors and developers implement new safety measures, such as additional employee training and accident reporting. Experts predict the hot-button issue of the legislation will be the proposal that companies hire only those workers who have completed an apprenticeship program, many of which have a union affiliation.
  • In the last two years, there have been 30 worker deaths on New York City job sites, according to trade unions, but the Department of Buildings only keeps track of fatalities associated with building code violations and has recorded only 24 deaths, a figure which includes bystanders.

Dive Insight:

The Real Estate Board of New York and city trade unions, who were most recently at odds over wage rates for those employees working on affordable housing projects, are expected to lock horns over the apprenticeship requirement, which would only kick in for those buildings 10 stories or taller.

According to REBNY — which has previously suggested 60-inch guardrails, netting that would prevent falls, additional training and more city staff — the most accidents have occurred in buildings with fewer than 10 stories, and Gary LaBarbera, president of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, said there should be requirements for those buildings as well.

Critics of the new rules have called them a union ploy to increase their rolls at a time when membership is flagging and nonunion workers are gaining ground, a claim which LaBarbera denied. REBNY president John Banks said in a statement that the organization supports job site safety but that the apprenticeship requirement would "only result in shutting down construction sites and putting people out of work."

Rick Chandler, New York City buildings commissioner, told the City Council in 2015 that it was not clear whether accidents occur more on union or nonunion construction sites, and the city has instituted a program of increased stop-work orders. For the most part, however, city officials have chalked the increase in worker fatalities up to the building boom. In an effort to determine the level of safety at city construction sites, Jumaane Williams, council member and chair of New York City's Committee on Housing and Buildings, pressed officials to begin tracking work-related accidents according to whether they occurred on union or nonunion sites.

In another response to the uptick in fatalities, New York County District Attorney General Cyrus Vance Jr.  established a construction fraud task force, which also targets unsafe practices and conditions on city work sites. Vance scored a conviction last year against Harco Construction in the trench collapse death of 22-year-old worker Carlos Moncayo.

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