City Council passes bill to mandate safety training for construction workers



Construction workers showed up on September 28th, 2017, in support of the vote for a construction safety bill.

A bill that requires construction workers in New York City to complete more safety training than they do now passed the City Council on September 28th, a week after two workers fell to their deaths at two separate construction sites in Manhattan.

“I think it’s going to have a large impact on keeping workers safe,” said Connor Fallon, a 22-year-old construction worker from Long Beach who used to work at Hudson Yard and showed up for the vote. “All we want to do is to show up to work, get the job done, and go back home.”

Fallon was one of more than 70 workers, all supporters of the bill. The crowd erupted into cheers and full-blown applauses several times, first when Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito presented the legislation on the floor, and later when the bill got passed.

“You can clap,” said Ms. Mark-Viverito, cutting off staff members who usually try to keep people from clapping, to keep order.

“Too many fatalities have occurred on construction sites in the city,” said the speaker. “It has clearly become well past time to take actions on ensuring safety of our workers and residents.”

According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 100 people working in construction were fatally injured in New York City from 2011 to 2015, nearly half of the workplace fatalities that happened on construction sites in New York state during the same period.  As of May 2016, there are more than 210,000 construction workers employed in the New York metropolitan area, up from 202,000 in May 2015. Common causes of deaths and injuries include falls, exposure to hazardous environments and improper contact with equipment. The bill’s proponents argued that such accidents are preventable with more training tighter enforcement of safety standards. If the percentage of workers who are fatally injured in the area does not change, the number of workers dying on sites will only increase, given the current employment trend.

“Even though there are standards, they are not always enforced,” said Fallon. “That’s where people kind of fell down from shafts because they’re not properly protected.”

This graphic is made with Tableau Public.

Under the bill, which is waiting to be signed into law by Mayor Bill de Blasio, construction workers at most sites will need to undergo a minimum of 40 hours of safety training, and violations can result in a fine up to $25,000.

A group representing real estate interests and small contractors opposed the bill, arguing that it would kill jobs mostly in the non-union sector, where many employees are immigrants and minorities.

The Real Estate Board of New York, one of the largest lobbying groups for the real estate industry in the city, released a statement that asked, “How will tens of thousands of workers access safety training? How will they pay for it?”

“That hasn’t been determined yet,” said Mónica Novoa in an email, the director of communications of New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH), a local coalition of community and labor organizations that advocated for the bill, when she referred to the cost of safety training for non-union workers.

“The employers should bear the burden,” said Rebecca Lurie, a construction worker-turned-founder of a home improvement company. “It’s a reasonable burden.”

John J. Skinner, the president of Local #46, a union of ironworkers in New York, said he expected pushback from “greedy people who care about nothing about anyone but themselves.”

“To ask that the construction industry people and developers of New York City to give 40 hours of basic training to workers who have been getting killed about one a month is never too much to ask,” he said.

The legislation, which in previous two versions faced even stronger opposition from groups like REBNY, promises $5 million to support training for day labor and small MWBE (Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprise) contractors. Those opposed say that some workers may still not able to afford the training, even given the pledged amount of support. In addition, the final bill also includes provision that allows labor to continuing working while they complete this training, until December 2018.

“It was almost immoral what I saw was happening with REBNY.” said Council Member Jumaane D. Williams of Brooklyn, the sponsor of the legislation. “This bill is closer to what they want, and they’re complaining.”

“The only way that I can explain what they did is a paraphrase from Rick James, and that is the love of money is a hell of a drug,” he said.