Nonunion group calls on state to investigate why Verrazano Bridge worker wasn’t wearing a safety harness

Letter highlights that contractor on the job, Tutor Perini, is union

TRD New York /
May.May 19, 2017 08:00 AM

A nonunion construction group is calling on the state to investigate why a worker who fell from the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge earlier this week wasn’t in a safety harness.

The Associated Builders Contractors sent a letter to the state’s Department of Transportation urging the agency to investigate why the worker wasn’t “tied off” when he fell on Monday. The worker plunged 25 feet from the upper level of the bridge onto electrical conduits and fractured both of his legs, according to city fire officials. The electrical wiring stopped him from plunging to the road below.

The letter emphasizes that the worker’s employer, Tutor Perini, is working on the project through a union-only project labor agreement.

“Construction is one of the most dangerous occupations, and we must insist that all workers, contractors and owners are held to the same high standards of ensuring everyone that everyone goes home safely after a day of work,” ABC President Brian Sampson states in the letter.

The department didn’t respond to a message seeking comment.

The letter comes as the union and nonunion groups continue to spar over proposed legislation that would require contractors working on certain project to participate in state-approved apprenticeship programs. The measure is part of a package of bills proposed before the City Council, dubbed the Construction Safety Act. The mayor has already signed six of the 21 bills in the package, though the most contentious of the bills are still up for debate.

The debate largely centers around whether union jobs are inherently safer than nonunion. Gary LaBarbera, president of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, dismissed ABC’s letter, saying “union worksites are unequivocally safer than nonunion sites.” He noted, again, that 90 percent of the 33 construction-related deaths in the city since 2015 were on nonunion sites.

“Once again, the ABC is attempting to deflect away from the pathetic safety record of their nonunion contractor members who everyday put profits over worker safety,” said LaBarbera. “Construction is an inherently dangerous occupation and no worker is immune from accidents.”

Unions have a strong ally in Albany. During an event on Thursday, Cuomo touted that for every state project, “every dollar is union construction.” He also made a point of saying the new 421a program will assure that certain projects have “union quality, union safety, and union apprentices.”

Tutor Perini was awarded a $235.7 million contract in 2012 to replace the upper level of the bridge. In October, two other workers at the Verrazano were injured when they fell 15 feet from the upper level of the bridge onto a protective barrier. Representatives for Tutor Perini didn’t immediately return requests seeking comment.

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