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Construction workers protest City Council site safety bills

Members of the construction industry took to the streets for the second time in two weeks yesterday (Tuesday) as the City Council introduced a package of bills aimed at increasing construction site safety.

The proposed measures follow 30 deaths on New York City job sites over the last two years, 28 of which happened on non-union projects.

Photo via Greater NY LECET Twitter page
Photo via Greater NY LECET Twitter page

Organizers expected thousands to attend the rally in front of City Hall Tuesday afternoon, where earlier in the day, the City Council held a committee meeting discussing the bills. A scheduled Council meeting for Feb. 1 did not state whether the bills would be up for vote, according to the Council’s website.

Construction workers, city officials, and representatives from groups including the New York City Housing Authority, (NYCHA), The New York State Association for Affordable Housing (NYSAFAH), The Associated Builders and Contractors Empire State Chapter (ABC), and Building and Construction Trades Council (BCTC) rallied near City Hall.

“We gather at City Hall today to demonstrate our support for this critically important package of bills that will protect the lives of construction workers across the five boroughs,” said Gary LaBarbera, president of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, in a press release. “We can no longer tolerate irresponsible developers and contractors who are putting profits over the safety of workers. This must end now.”

While some groups like the BCTC fully support the safety bills, others oppose a portion in the legislation that calls for mandated apprenticeship programs on private job sites for major building projects 10 stories or higher, which they say would greatly impact the industry.

“Supporters of the apprenticeship mandate on buildings ten stories and above claim that it will mean fewer accidents,” said Anthony Rinaldi, chairman of the Associated Builders and Contractors New York City Regional Leadership Committee, in a statement.

“What they won’t tell you is that most of the incidents happen on job sites that are below the ten-story threshold,” he said. “Our goal in holding this rally is to make City Council officials aware of this discrepancy in the hopes that it will also make them aware of the fact that it could potentially put hundreds of thousands of people out of a job, including many minorities who need them most, without making building in NYC safer.”

The New York Building Congress (NYBC) said in a statement that the bills need more analysis from a “diverse task force” before being put into law.

“We believe the most prudent next step is for City Council speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito to convene a diverse task force of key stakeholders who can thoroughly analyze the current package of proposed legislation and reach consensus on a more comprehensive approach to enhancing worksite safety,” said NYBC president and CEO Carlo Scissura, in a statement.

Another bill up for consideration, though not part of the construction safety package, is one that calls for prevailing wages on certain construction projects in the city. Critics say this could dramatically drive up the cost of building affordable housing. According to numbers from the Independent Budget Office (IBO), prevailing wages increase construction hard costs on affordable housing projects by 28 percent, or $80,000 for each affordable unit.

Jolie A. Milstein, president and CEO of the New York State Association for Affordable Housing (NYSAFAH), a trade association for New York’s affordable housing industry, spoke before the committee Jan. 31 about the safety bills. NYSAFAH opposes both the apprenticeship mandate and the prevailing wages bill.

“The focus today should be on ways all sectors of the industry can come together to promote construction site safety, while at the same time ensuring steps taken do not needless harm the city’s ability to house its most vulnerable residents,” said Milstein in an copy of her testimony released to the media. “Unfortunately, this legislation accomplishes neither. NYSAFAH is ready to engage in a dialogue with the members of this committee and with all stakeholders here today about the best way to accomplish those mutually agreed-upon goals.”

REBNY president John Banks previously wrote in an op-ed for Real Estate Weekly that the package of bills were “misguided”  and would cripple minority and women business enterprises, and limit access to good paying jobs for the city’s immigrant and non-native English speaking population. He urged the Council to take a data-driven approach to construction safety.

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