The New York City Council voted unanimously on Wednesday to approve a safety bill that establishes safety protocols as a way to prevent construction worker deaths, following eight months of intensive review by lawmakers, day laborers, unions, real estate developers, and contractors.
The vote came nearly one week after two construction workers fell to their deaths hours apart in separate accidents.
That bill,Â Intro 1447-C, would establish safety training requirements for workers at construction sites. The legislation would require construction workers to receive at least 40 hours of safety training as specified by the Department of Buildings; allow employees to continue working while they complete the training; and develop a program that grants equal access to training for all workers, including day laborers and workers employed by certain small business contractors.
The bill also includes a required 40-hour class with the United States Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration (or OSHA). A fine of $25,000 could be charged to construction sites that donât adhere to the safety regulations for not having trained workers.
âToo many fatalities have occurred on construction sites in this city.â
âToo many fatalities have occurred on construction sites in this city,â NYC Council Speaker of the House Melissa Mark Viverito (D) said during the council meeting Wednesday. âIt has clearly become well past time to take action on ensuring the safety of our residents.â
âWe are protecting every single worker,â Councilmember Carlos Menchaca (D) said at the same meeting. âThe road was tough, but everyone was dedicated to that one mission âŚ to make sure that not one more death come before us in construction sites in the richest city in the country, potentially the world, that we set an example for others. We want to change that culture today.â
The legislation, which is the third version of a bill that has been debated for eight months, couldnât have come at a more important time. One week ago, two construction workersÂ fell to their deathsÂ in separate incidents across the city. One, a 43-year-old father of five originally from Ecuador, was wearing a harness, but was not clipped in, before falling from the 29th floor of a building in the Financial District. The other, a 45-year-old man, was wearing a safety harness, but wasnât secured to the bucket lift before falling as the boom was descending. Another worker died at the same site in June.
There have been seven construction workers deaths in New York City so far this year, according to the NYC Buildings Department. In both 2016 and 2015, there were 12 deaths each year.
In a city whereÂ 26,739 new apartmentsÂ are on track to becoming available this year andÂ construction permits surged substantiallyÂ in 2016 from the previous year, construction site accidents have long been a silent killer for immigrant workers. That has especially held true for Latinx and undocumented workers who may be too afraid to speak out against unsafe conditions for fear of deportation.
As the trend in worker fatality data indicates, Latinx and immigrant workers have morbidly expendable lives. As a whole, these two types of workers outpaced all other major groups for fatal work injuries across all industries. Just within the construction industry, a 2015 New York TimesÂ reportÂ found that safety measures at construction job sites were often âwoefully inadequateâ as determined by safety inspectors, government officials and prosecutors. Beyond that, aÂ 2014Â U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) survey found that fatal work injuries were the highest among Latinx workers than any other major racial/ethnic groups. Most recently, anÂ AFL-CIO reportÂ from April, which surveyed 2015 BLS data across all industries, found that the âLatino fatality rate was 4.0 per 100,000 workers, 18 percent higher than the national average.â Among those Latinos who died, a full 67 percent were immigrant workers.
âConstruction deaths and injuries has been an issue in our communities for a very long time and, frankly, it was not being addressed.â
Advocates for immigrant construction workers are glad for Intro-1447âs passage in large part because it puts a big spotlight on immigrant construction workers in the discussion on worker safety.
âConstruction deaths and injuries has been an issue in our communities for a very long time and, frankly, it was not being addressed, so weâre thankful for the passage of Intro-1447,â Manuel Castro, the executive director at the workers advocacy groupÂ New York New Immigrant Community EmpowermentÂ (NY NICE), told ThinkProgress.Â âWe want bad employers to be held accountable. Whenever thereâs a construction death, whenever thereâs an injury, that justice must come to those workers.â
Castro said that there werenât many protections in place for immigrant construction workers before Intro-1447. Workers were given a 10-hour safety training. âThe reality, however, is that a lot of workers start working on the sites without the training and it isnât until weeks, maybe months after working that they look for a training and often they donât find a training,â Castro said.
âTheyâre not given the appropriate training because the trainings arenât vetted by anyone in the state,â Castro said. âThe trainers are certified, but there isnât much regulation over this. Other industries have a lot more extensive trainings.â
Castro and other NY NICE members were among those who held a âcandlelight vigilâ as city council members took a vote Wednesday with electronic candles to represent construction workers who had died on the job.
âWhen we talk about these issues, the people most impacted tend to be immigrant workers because some of the day laborers are without status,âÂ Murad Awawdeh, vice president of advocacy at the advocacy groupÂ New York Immigration Coalition, told ThinkProgress.
â[I]t comes down to the responsibility of the entire industry to have and implement safety practices within the workplace,â Awawdeh said. âAs long as everyone is doing it, everyone will be safe. Contractors, big or small, do deviate and try to cut corners and continue to put peopleâs lives at risk. How can we ensure that everyone â unions to nonunions, documented and undocumented â are protected? So this is just the first step.â
Awawdeh recounted waiting outside his office for a meeting earlier this week and seeing an immigrant construction worker fall about 50 feet. He explained, âWe are seeing this happen on a daily basis at this point â the guy survived, but was not attached to anything.â
The bill has provided hope for both Castro and Awawdeh that the city is taking a big step to ensure the safety of its immigrant construction workers.
âIt marks the beginning of something really important in New York City,â Castro said. âThe city is taking an active role in protecting immigrant workers. As a worker center that works with immigrant workers and day laborers, this is a very important step. We want to ensure more is done, but this is a critical step.â
This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on September 28, 2017. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author:Â Esther Yu Hsi LeeÂ is a reporter at ThinkProgress focusing on domestic and international migration policies. She has appeared on various television and radio shows to discuss immigration issues. Among other accolades, she was a White House Champion of Change. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.