Construction Safety Bill Falls Short on Real Solutions

Despite concerns raised by many groups, the City Council has passed Intro 1447-C, otherwise known as the construction safety bill.   The Real Estate Board of New York agrees that every worker should receive safety training.  However, this legislation fails to address some key concerns. 

It is fair to note that the latest version of 1447-C is an improvement from when it started out as an apprenticeship mandate.  Nevertheless, it still fails to address REBNY’s basic concerns.

The first concern is simple: does New York City have the adequate capacity to train up to 120,000 non-union construction workers? The answer to this question is just a simple - no.

Currently, there are only 22 training providers approved by the NYC Department of Buildings (DOB) that can train non-union workers.  Federal regulations limit certain class sizes to only 40 students.  According to the last census, more the half of the city’s construction workforce are non-native English speakers and twenty percent have less than a high school degree.

As it stands, there is not nearly enough capacity to support the potential crush of people seeking the mandated training courses. On this issue, the facts speak for themselves.

Secondly, how will workers who are not affiliated with a union or contractor - many of whom are minorities or immigrants - pay for the training to keep their jobs? Although the City Council announced that it will cover the costs for some 4,000 workers, this is not enough.  Many of the up to 120,000 workers will be left at risk of not getting a contractor to pay for their training. With no sponsorship and insufficient public funding, these workers will need to pay for training out of their own pockets in order to keep working.

The legislation also fails to include any safeguards to limit fraud.  Every worker will be required to carry a Site Safety Training card in order to work and while the Department of Buildings may require uniformity in the card’s appearance and information, the Department will not be able to verify the cardholder’s training certification.  In fact, the legislation does not call for any independent third-party to verify the training of the cardholder.  This oversight, in the wake of recent news reports about fraud and abuse surrounding OSHA training cards, could lead to abusive practices by training providers and a proliferation of fraudulent safety cards.

Finally, why aren’t all workers subject to the bill’s safety training requirements?  The bill excludes all new building projects 4 stories and below, even though these projects accounted for 80% of all permits and 35% of all the construction-related fatalities between 2010 and 2015.  During this period, projects 5 to 9 stories, which will need OSHA10 training immediately, represented only 13% of the work.  Moreover, the legislation establishes a different set of rules for union workers without assessing whether or not such workers have obtained the specific training the legislation is expected to call for.  Six of the last twelve construction workers to die in New York City belonged to a union.

Union officials are quick to argue that 90 percent of construction-related fatalities were on non-union projects – but they ignore the fact that nearly 98 percent of the private sector construction work done in New York City is non-union or open shop according the permits issued by DOB.  The facts warrant that we ensure all construction workers receive basic safety training.

Let me be clear, we all want well trained workers on the site and for them to go home to their families at the end of the day in the same condition that they arrived.  Intro 1447-C might achieve that but it could also divide the construction workforce into the haves and have-nots, with qualified nonunion workers being thrown off job sites as a result.