If It Walks Like A Duck: The Construction Safety Act
Recently, City Councilman Corey Johnson and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer announced a new bill – the Construction Safety Act -- that would require all workers on buildings taller than 10 stories to go through a state approved apprenticeship program. The purported aim of this bill is to address a number of deaths that have occurred over the last two years on construction sites in New York City. At a hearing earlier this month in the City Council Chambers, tempers flared over the necessity for this bill. The building trades unions contend that the only way to improve safety on the jobs is to require employees to be processed through apprenticeship programs, all of which are run by the unions. On the flipside are representatives of various real estate and contractor associations who argue that most fatal accidents have occurred on smaller buildings.
Interestingly – and perhaps surprisingly – Mayor de Blasio opposes the measure saying that “Safety is not a union matter. It’s a safe site or an unsafe site. We are not going down the road of requiring people to have apprenticeships.” A major concern is that the measure would, in effect, require construction workers be union members and, thus, drive up the costs for building below-market housing. The end result would be fewer such apartments. And, fewer residents of public housing would be employed in these jobs.
To address the issue, the City Department of Buildings supports a provision requiring a 10 hour safety course by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The argument is that, while union apprenticeship programs do have safety components, the programs are primarily to learn a trade.
The building trades unions, of course, would like to see all such jobs funneled through their member unions. While the unions are attempting to take the high road and say this is all about safety on the job, there are some who feel that this is nothing more than another union grab to protect the interests of the unions with the cost being born by the public.
As of this writing, the bill is still pending. If you have any questions about this subject, please contact Philip S. Mortensen.