Apprentice Programs Promote Craft Training, Not Safety Training

Last week, the New York City Council’s Committee on Housing and Buildings held a hearing on the Construction Safety Act–a package of 21 new and previously-introduced bills–to promote safety on job sites.

The Act is a direct response to the fact that while construction activity has increased over the past two years, so have fatalities and accidents on the jobsite.

REBNY commends Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Council member Jumaane Williams and the entire City Council for taking on this important issue.

Two recurring themes emerged at the day-long hearing: workers on all sites need to be fully trained in the latest safety practices; and smaller sites of nine stories and less deserve greater scrutiny because nearly 90 percent of all accidents occur on these sites.

These themes reinforce the findings in REBNY’s construction safety report issued in early 2016.

Indeed, many of the bills that comprise the Construction Safety Act reflect the construction safety best practices of REBNY’s membership identified in the report.

Among others, these bills include instituting toolbox talks, site-specific orientations and heightened guardrails and netting.

With certain bill language tweaks, REBNY is ready to lend its full-throated support. However, there a few bills in the Act – namely, Intro Nos. 1447, 1432 and 744 – that REBNY strongly opposes.

Intro No. 1447 mandates apprenticeship training programs at virtually every jobsite throughout the City, while Intro No. 1432 mandates apprenticeship training programs at City-financed projects.  Both bills would stop many projects in its tracks and/or from ever being realized.

Let’s be clear. Apprenticeship programs promote craft training, not safety training.  The two should not be confused with one another. Other than Intro No. 1447’s requirement that workers on all sites receive OSHA 10 training, these bills do little to advance worker safety.

In fact, otherwise-qualified construction workers could effectively be out of a job because they will not be able to meet Intro No. 1447’s strict definition of qualified workers on building projects, or they would face the prospect of having to start all over again by enrolling in an apprenticeship program in order to work.

Apprenticeship programs also impact the Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprise (MWBE) and smaller contractor community.

The New York State Department of Labor outlines a rigorous regulatory regime to qualify and approve an apprenticeship program.  MWBE firms and other smaller contractors might not have the resources to establish or participate in such an apprenticeship program.

Even if they did, they would face stiff competition as the building construction trades dominate the apprenticeship programs in New York City.

And assuming that MWBE firms and smaller contractors were able to establish an apprenticeship program today, an apprentice could not graduate from such a program within the next three years due to statutory requirements, thereby, erasing any gains made by MWBE firms and smaller contractors in the construction industry.

Requiring apprenticeship programs on projects receiving City financial assistance will also negatively impact construction.

The added wage costs will increase overall costs which could impede the progress made thus far toward affordable housing production.

Other City-assisted projects such as educational and manufacturing facilities might be affected as the bill’s broad definition of City financial assistance includes “bond financing” which heavily subsidizes non-profit development through Industrial Development Agency (IDA) bonds.

Mandating apprenticeship programs will also adversely affect NYCHA’s fulfillment of Section 3 and other resident employment programs.

REBNY also voiced opposition against Intro No. 744, which requires prevailing wages on projects receiving discretionary City financial assistance.

REBNY is not entirely clear how or why the bill is part of the Construction Safety Act, but its impact to increase project costs are all too evident.

Intro No. 744 will not affect as-of-right tax abatements, such as 421-a projects, but it will affect projects that receive discretionary financial assistance, such as IDA bonding. These projects (educational facilities, supportive housing, and manufacturing centers) are particularly sensitive to cost pressures and might never be built if Intro No. 744 was enacted.

As the bills comprising the Construction Safety Act are amended, we look forward to participating in continued dialogue from last week’s hearing that allowed for a rigorous and necessary discussion on improving safety on construction sites to ensure that every worker goes home in the same condition they arrived.