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Local 211’s Fight for Respect

Union-Built Matters gets the latest scoop on New York’s building inspectors fight for a better contract, and for equity among uniformed city employees.


A recent graduating class of New York City Department of Building inspectors takes their oath of service. -- Twitter photo from @NYC_Buildings

Building inspectors are a pillar of New York City’s construction world, working to ensure that properties are safe and up to code. Last September, Union-Built Matters reported that the Allied Building Inspectors International Union of Operating Engineers’ (IUOE) Local 211 labor union—which services inspectors of the city’s Department of Buildings (DOB) and Department of Housing Preservation & Development (HPD)—had published contract demands addressing hardships like low pay and danger on the job.


It's a fact that the city’s building inspectors are understaffed, overworked, and underpaid. But shouldn’t the people who oversee the 40,000+ active construction sites, and countless standing properties, across the city  be granted safety and solid pay? Union-Built Matters caught up with president and business manager of the Local 211 Matthew Gugliotta—and spoke to an anonymous building inspector—to get the scoop on the negotiations and the morale of inspectors.


Status of Negotiations

As of press time, the Local 211 remains in negotiations with the Office of Labor Relations to figure out a new contract. And there has been some sense of optimism in the air ever since the DC-37 contract was ratified in February, granting workers improved pay and benefits (DC 37 is  New York City's largest public employee union). More union members are seeing what  is possible if they organize, and inspectors today are hopeful that their needs can be met. “It’s encouraging that DC-37 got a settlement, and hopefully we will get at least as much as they did,” said a longtime building inspector who opted to remain anonymous. “I hope that sets the floor for everybody else.” Still, a lingering frustration is present; as inspectors wait for negotiation meetings to conclude, they continue to face poor working conditions.


There are currently about 800 DOB inspectors overseeing more than 40,000 active construction projects in New York City -- NYC DOB

The Pay Issue

The main item inspectors are pushing for during this round of contract negotiations is higher  pay. “We need to increase the salaries so we can recruit good people to fill vacancies—and retain the people we already have,” Gugliotta stated, adding that the industry is “losing its best talent every week” due to poor wages and benefits. “Whether it’s the DOB or the HPD—we hire five, we lose five,” he said. “It’s a constant cycle.” Going into the job, inspectors see a posted salary range, but “its maximum end is a number no one can achieve,” according to Gugliotta. Inspectors make around $61,000 until they see a slight bump of a few percent every five years or so when there is a new contract. This pay seems abhorrent when one considers the training inspectors go through and the services they provide to the city. Gugliotta is ardent that inspectors should be compensated fairly. “I’m not saying we have to pay everyone a hundred thousand dollars,” he said, “but let them be able to reach the maximum salary they can.”  Over the past few years, new inspectors tend to start at the DOB or the HPD to get experience, but then shift to the private sector (or to other government agencies), where the pay is significantly higher for the same type of work. Plus, the solid pension plans inspectors had access to in the past no longer exist. 

With just 800 inspectors responsible for over 40,000 active construction projects, the city’s building inspectors are understaffed, overworked, and underpaid


Business Manager of local 211, Matthew Gugliotta.  -- NYC DOB

So, salary talks are currently pending, with Gugliotta attending meetings every few weeks. “They’re hearing my demands, but it’s a lot of back-and-forth,” he said, adding that it will take time to work something out. . “This makes some inspectors anxious, especially because the DC-37 people have gotten their bonuses. After all, our contract expired two years ago already.”


The gist of this issue is that low pay makes inspectors’ often tough jobs even more difficult. “You feel unappreciated, underpaid, and overworked,” Gugliotta said. “We provide such a vital public safety service to the citizens and the property of New York, and we deserve to be compensated for it.”


The Safety Issue

The other item inspectors are pushing for is increased safety on the job. Often, inspectors put themselves in dangerous situations—not only while visiting construction sites with potential hazardous conditions, but also in terms of  facing violence from workers, contractors, or tenants who want them off the property. Gugliotta has noticed an increase in assaults against inspectors, and cited this problem as stemming from the fact that the city does not provide inspectors with adequate uniformed status. 


Indeed, building inspectors do not have the same uniformed status as other city employees—like sanitation workers, Con Edison employees, firefighters, or police officers. “They have us in the uniforms and wearing badges, and we write violations and enforce the building code, the administrative code, the housing maintenance code, the zoning resolution…since they’ve got us in the uniforms doing these tasks, they should give us the status,” said Gugliotta. 


The reason is that with uniformed status comes protections. But the Local 211 is hopeful that the State Assembly will back the inspectors when it comes to this issue. “We work on our own, alone, and unarmed,” said the anonymous inspector. “On top of that, we’re in a uniform and we’re giving people thousands of dollars’ worth of summons sometimes. We shouldn’t have to be afraid to do our job. We should have some legal protections.” 


A recent graduating class of NYC DOB inspectors. -- Twitter photo from @NYC_Buildings

Looking Ahead

Gugliotta is trying  to keep Local 211 members optimistic. While the wait for negotiations to end is exasperating, he tries to keep morale up, working on new initiatives to keep the Local 211 busy and learning. Under his presidency, the union has revamped its website to make it more accessible—plus, he is sending some inspectors to the International Training and Education Center for the IUOE in Texas later this year to undergo drone training. 


Gugliotta and other Local 211 members are hopeful that the new leadership will help improve things; Jimmy Oddo was appointed as the commissioner of the DOB  last month. While he doesn’t have field experience (like the previous commissioner), Oddo is passionate about his work and said in a press release that “ensuring the safety of every New Yorker and worker alike” is his priority. “I will work every day to foster a culture within the agency that best positions the talented professionals there to address and advance our agenda,” he stated. .


“In a perfect world, inspectors would have parity with the other uniform titles in the city,” said the anonymous inspector. “That’s something I think we should aspire to. I don’t know if we’re going to get there this time around, but it is certainly something we deserve—and have for a long time.”


Jessica Beebe is a multimedia journalist living and working in New York City. Email her at

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