Revised construction-safety bill still misses the mark

Is a simplistic, one-size-fits-all bill the right approach on worker-safety? Does a bill that treats a demolition worker practically the same as a carpet installer seriously designed to address safety issues? Can a bill drafted with almost no industry input really address the City Council's concerns about construction safety?

When it comes to Intro. 1447-C, the answers are no, no and no—and the harm the legislation would create is great.

Will affordable housing builders be harmed? Yes. Will minority and women subcontractors be harmed? Yes. Will minority and women construction workers be harmed? Yes. Will builders and contractors belonging to a worker safety group be harmed? Yes.

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Let's look at the legislation, which was revised Friday afternoon and is expected to be voted upon next week.

By mandating a set amount of training hours for every worker, the legislation assumes that a carpenter needs the same amount of safety instruction as a demolition worker or a carpet installer. Logically, does this make sense? Of course not. But rather than look at each trade and figure what makes sense for that group of workers, the legislation originally defaulted to a simple slogan, "59 for all." The number of hours has been lowered in the new version of the bill, but regardless, slogans rarely make any sense from a true policy perspective.

Moreover, this bill severely harms minority- and women-owned contractors. Most have a skilled workforce who have learned their trades over the years. But the legislation treats everyone as an absolute novice. Does the council really believe that? After years of training workers, these contractors are now being asked to train them again. The additional training is a redundancy designed to make the cost of construction higher so these minority- and women-owned entities go out of business—forcing the use of union labor, which would further harm minority and women workers because minority- and women-owned contractors predominantly employ minority and women workers!

The bill would create an unreasonable higher cost of construction. Better worker safety is not the real reason for union support of it. Rather, unions want every contractor to be as expensive as the union shops are. The wages paid to these nonunion workers are fair, just not the semi-extortionist rates charged by labor unions. Unions don't care about the cost of doing business; they only care about getting more work. Essentially, the bill allows unions to corner a marketplace in a scheme almost worthy of organized crime.

Ask yourself, does this bill really pass the smell test? Does it really seem right that just a set number of training hours solves the problem without taking into account the differences between trades? Some trades may need more training, but for others the standard OSHA 10-hour course is sufficient.

To really draft a correct bill, the City Council needed to review each trade, look at the requirements for each trade, and determine what makes sense for each trade. Did it do this? I think you know the answer... But if it's really yes, where's the research for 40 hours? A lot more study needs to be done on worker safety and what makes sense in terms of training. Unfortunately, judging from the plain text of the bill, the proponents of Intro. 1447-C have not done it.

Robert Altman is the legislative consultant to the Queens and Bronx Building Association, a trade group representing contractors.

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