Nonunion group brings race into construction safety debate

NYCA opposes City Council bill that mandates training programs
By Konrad Putzier | January 20, 2017 06:30PM

A construction worker (credit: Vonderauvisuals)

UPDATED, Jan. 20, 7:47 p.m.: Nonunion contractors opened a new playing field in their fight against a proposed City Council bill that would mandate apprenticeship programs for construction workers: race.

In survey results released Friday, the New York Construction Alliance said that 76.48 percent of open-shop construction workers are minorities, and that the proposed bill would hit them hardest.

The group, founded in June to advocate for nonunion contractors, timed the release for the week City Council introduced the bill. One of the bill’s clauses would require developers of projects of a certain size to hire contractors whose workers have completed training programs of the kind unions already offer.

NYCA argues that the bill would benefit union contractors at the expense of their nonunion peers. And since the latter employ more minorities, “this piece of legislation would exclude many of the open shop sector’s local, minority workers from new job opportunities.” NYCA’s co-chair Tom Nickel told TRD that the group timed the release for this week because the Council “needs to take that into account.”

Proponents of the bill argue that mandating training for construction workers is necessary to ensure safety and prevent construction deaths. On Wednesday, both sides staged protests outside City Hall.

“NYCA’s survey indicates that open shop development is a pathway for local hiring and diversity in New York City’s construction industry,” REBNY President John Banks said in a statement. “We hope city officials welcome this data and respond by considering policies that encourage local hiring and greater workforce diversity in the city’s construction industry.”

A day earlier, the think tank Employment Policies Institute had released its own survey results, which found that minorities made up 75.3 percent of non-union construction workers and 55.1 percent of union workers between 2006 and 2015. That survey was sponsored by the New York City Building Trades Council.  That difference is almost entirely due to Hispanics, which make up 48.6 percent of nonunion and 30.5 percent of union workers. In contrast, black workers make up a larger share of union workers – 21.2 percent compared to 15.8 percent among nonunion workers.