A complicated mess is brewing in New York City over a series of 21 bills being introduced into the council under the name of the “Construction Safety Act.” When a crane fell in Manhattan in February 2016 and killed a pedestrian, the city acted immediately. Decades-old legislation that regulated crane activity in the city was resurrected, and the construction industry fought back.
The New York City Common Council and Department of Buildings promised action would be taken to make construction safer, and that action is coming in the form of the Construction Safety Act. But one of the provisions of the Act, the Apprenticeship Safety Bill, is causing a huge divide in the construction industry that does not look to be going away anytime soon.
What Does The Apprenticeship Safety Bill Entail?
The Apprenticeship Safety Bill requires that any construction worker who will be working on a building project 10 stories or higher or a demolition project four stories or higher, will need to go through an apprenticeship safety program. That sounds like a good idea until you realize that all of the apprenticeship safety programs currently in used in the city are run by the unions.
However, the non-union construction companies are not the only ones lining up against the Apprenticeship Safety Bill. The New York City Housing Authority Tenant’s Association (NYCHA) represents minority workers all over the city, and the NYCHA says that the Apprenticeship Safety Bill is a racist idea. Since the unions traditionally do not hire minorities, the NYCHA states that minority workers will not have much of a chance to get involved in the safety programs.
Not only does the bill threaten to keep minority workers out of work, but it also threatens to put non-union construction companies out of business. At least, that is what the NYCHA and the non-union construction companies that operate in New York City are saying. Leaders at the NYCHA insist that the only reason for the bill is to allow unions to take over the majority of construction work in the city, and move out minority workers.
Non-Union Construction Companies Might Be At A Disadvantage
The unions and the city council say that the Apprenticeship Safety Bill is designed to offer much-needed safety training to all of the city’s construction workers. But the implication that non-union companies have to do better at safety was not very subtle. Despite the financial strain, the Apprenticeship Safety Bill may put on non-union construction companies, it can be said that the companies have brought this on themselves.
OSHA estimates that 80 percent of New York City construction fatalities in 2014 and 74 percent in 2015 occurred on non-union work sites. In 2015, 93 percent of the construction companies that OSHA considered to be severe repeat violators of safety codes were non-union. In 2015, 25 construction workers died in New York City, and approximately 18 of those deaths were non-union. While the non-union shops may have a point that the Apprenticeship Safety Bill may cause them financial strain, the city also has a point when it says that non-union shops need mandatory safety training.
Unions And The City Will Not Back Down
Throughout Brooklyn and the rest of the five boroughs, the NYCHA and non-union companies have been organizing protests and attending public meetings on the Apprenticeship Safety Bill. At every meeting, the New York City unions and council members have been there to defend the measure in no uncertain terms. One side wants the bill removed completely from the Construction Safety Act, while the other side wants it to remain.
Is the Apprenticeship Safety Bill an attempt by the New York City construction unions to become relevant again and dominate the local construction industry? Or, is it a legitimate attempt by the city to make construction safer? While the numbers indicate that something has to be done and that non-union shops are a problem, the fact is that the unions own and control all of the apprentice training facilities throughout the city. So far, the city has made no mention of building facilities that are used by both union and non-union workers. Until that happens, the fighting will go on.