Council committee unanimously approves contentious construction safety bill

Bill next heads to full Council vote

Jumaane Williams and an NYC construction site (Credit: Getty Images)
Jumaane Williams and an NYC construction site (Credit: Getty Images)

The City Council committee on housing and building on Wednesday unanimously voted in favor of a construction safety bill that will mandate at least 40 hours of safety training for workers.

The latest version of the bill, introduced Tuesday night, requires workers to complete a 40-hour training course by December 2018 — or September 2020, if the Department of Buildings determines that there aren’t enough training facilities available for workers to meet that deadline. By March 2018, workers have to complete the equivalent of OSHA 10, a 10-hour course sponsored by the Occupational Safety and Heath Administration. Workers will then complete an additional 30 hours of training, and then the DOB will determine an addition 10 to 25 hours. At least eight of those hours will pertain to the dangers of falling workers and objects at construction sites, according to the bill.

The hearing room at 250 Broadway was packed with people, many wearing shirts that said, “Don’t Take Our Jobs Stop 1447.” The phrase is one employed by Putting New Yorkers to Work, a group backed by the Real Estate Board of New York and other organizations. Leading up to the hearing, a few people voiced aggravation over the fact that a new version of the bill was posted Tuesday night and that the committee hearing was scheduled at the last minute.

“We were blindsided,” said Martin Allen, president of People for Political and Economic Empowerment. He said the bill will favor large corporations, since they have the deep pockets to pay for workers to complete the training.

Open shop groups and REBNY have fought against the three different iterations of the bill, which they’ve argued disproportionately favor union contractors and would harm minority workers.

REBNY president John Banks said the latest bill was an improvement but failed to address “basic questions like ensuring there will be sufficient training providers or how workers without an on-going relationship with a contractor will pay for and obtain training.”

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“This legislation runs the risk of putting tens of thousands of construction workers on the unemployment line,” he said.

Outside the City Council building, workers passed out flyers urging the passage of the bill. The flyer had a picture of Fernando Venegas, a 19-year-old worker who died at a construction site in Bed-Stuy in 2015.

Council member Robert Cornegy voiced concern about the fast pace of the legislation and the fact that many of the construction deaths over the last several years were minority workers. He urged the City Council to take a close look at how minority workers will be impacted by the legislation. Still, he voted in favor of the bill.

“We can walk and chew gum at the same time,” he said.

Council member Jumaane Williams said the latest version of the legislation reflected concerns from union and nonunion groups. As part of the bill, the City Council will dedicate $5 million to the city and community groups to contribute to the training efforts.