In the wake of an unprecedented 29 construction-related deaths in New York City over the last year, contractors and union leaders joined forces in mid-May with City Council Member Erik Martin Dilan, D-Brooklyn, to urge passage of a tough three-strikes-and-out penalty system that would ban repeat offenders from obtaining building permits for five years. The penalty is part of a comprehensive set of construction industry reforms that includes strengthened safety laws in an effort to protect the public and city construction workers.
Speaking on the steps of City Hall alongside Department of Buildings Commissioner Patricia Lancaster and a coalition of labor groups, immigrant advocates and clergy, Louis J. Coletti, president of the Building Trades Employers' Association, the largest unionized contractor association in the city, called on the New York City Council to adopt the proposed measures.
"With New York City experiencing a record boom in construction, it is imperative that we find solutions to ensure worker safety for all involved in the industry," Coletti said. "This legislative package will go a long way in standardizing safety requirements. It is critical that the City Council support these measures soon so we can make our industry safer for workers and the public alike."
Dilan, chairman of the housing and buildings committee and sponsor of the safety legislation, added: "By toughening penalties for rogue contractors, this important legislation will serve to protect not only construction workers, who have been increasingly risking their lives, but also it will protect the general public from unsafe construction sites. It is shocking to me that 75% of the deaths from construction accidents were from the Latino and minority community with most of the deaths occurring among those whom English was not the primary language. I intend to work this summer with leaders from both the contractor and labor side to draft this legislation so we can hold hearings on the subject this fall."
Coletti noted: "Construction in NYC is becoming a 'Tale of Two Cities,' contractors who follow the rules and those who don't. Construction fatalities and accidents do not discriminate between union and non-union jobs, but we can't escape the fact that, according to federal government statistics, 86% of deaths occur on non-union sites."
Echoing Coletti's sentiments was Edward J. Malloy, president of the 100,000-member Building and Construction Trades Council.
"Passage of these measures will put bad contractors on notice that if you want to build in New York and exploit working men and women, they will be put out of business," Malloy said. "Being proactive with strong enforcement sanctions will put contractors on the defensive and increase their risk for failing to comply with the law."
Among the key reforms being sought are:
* Three strikes penalty system for contractors found in violation of building codes when working without the required permits and licenses that will mandate a 10-day stop-work order for a first offense; a 90-day stop-work order for second offense; and a ban on all future permits for five years upon the third offense;
* The creation of a Buildings Department Safety and Responsibility Board that will issue an annual report card to the City Council with the names of contractors and owners who have had stop-work orders imposed as a result of this legislation;
* Amendment of the Site Safety Law that will require the filing of a license and site safety plan on new construction and excavation on projects six to 14 stories and require a 20-hour site safety certification and filing of a site safety plan on new construction and excavation below six stories;
* A requirement that all city contractors show proof of general liability, workers' compensation disability and health-care insurance in order to be issued a building permit;
* Funding for a 25-member special enforcement unit whose sole responsibility is to make unannounced jobsite visits to ensure that ongoing work is being done with all appropriate permits and in accordance with building codes and other safety requirements; and
* Requirements to award permits for new construction only to contractors affiliated with New York State apprentice programs.