Construction groups urge Cuomo to spare industry from virus rules

Being declared “essential” would exempt builders from New York’s workplace cap

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (Credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images, Pixabay)
Gov. Andrew Cuomo (Credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images, Pixabay)

Construction groups are urging New York officials to designate their industry as “essential” so it can avoid coronavirus-related restrictions on employers.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday announced that all nonessential businesses must have no more than 50 percent of their employees working outside their homes. The executive order laying out this mandate, which has not been publicly released, is expected to take effect Friday.

Building Trades Employers Association President Louis Coletti said his organization has called on state and city officials to include construction among the “essential” businesses to be exempt from the rule.

After his announcement, Cuomo tweeted that the order would apply to businesses that rely on in-office personnel, which would figure to exclude construction. But the construction industry still seeks a formal characterization as “essential,” alongside healthcare providers and grocery stores, so construction sites could remain active in the event of a shelter-in-place order.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has asked New Yorkers to prepare for such an order, but Cuomo wants to first see if less drastic measures will stem the pandemic in the state.

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New York wouldn’t be alone in characterizing construction as essential. San Francisco, which issued a shelter-in-place order Monday, included housing construction among its essential businesses. Construction also continued in Las Vegas following an order by the Nevada governor for nonessential businesses to close for 30 days.

Boston on Monday became the first major U.S. city to halt construction. The move sparked calls from City Council members for New York to do the same.

But Carlo Scissura, president of the New York Building Congress, said some services “have to keep going.” He pointed to infrastructure maintenance and the construction of affordable housing.

As for other projects, he said, “Companies are going to have to decide on their own. I don’t think we should mandate a full closure of every construction site.”