Governor Hochul: Don’t Change Carlos’s Law. Just Sign It.

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Carlos's Law was written in 2015 to increase penalties against negligent contractors whose decisions have been found to cause the injury or death of a worker. It finally passed the NY congress in June 2022, and awaits Governor Kathy Hochul's signature to become law. 

Ignore the calls to make changes to the bill that was already negotiated and approved by business and NY Congress.

In April 2015, Carlos Moncayo was buried alive on a Harco Construction job site when his managers sent him into an earthen pit that had unrestrained walls. The non-union company had already been cited by OSHA and the NYC Department of Building (DOB) for their failure to use wall retainers. But work continued, the wall collapsed, and Mr. Moncayo died. He was 22.

 

A law was almost immediately drafted by then-State Assemblyman Francisco Moya, that would protect workers from this type of management negligence. And in the years since then, the bill was argued over, sidelined, passed along, and altered. In that time, 85 more construction workers would die in New York.

 

Finally, in June of this year, more than 7 years after the death of Mr. Moncayo, the bill that was named for him, Carlos’s Law, was approved by the state Senate and cleared for passage.

Critics are coming out of the woodwork to call for changes to the bill that will benefit their monied backers: big developers and contractors

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The bill will protect workers from managers who skimp on safety requirements.

Now, as the bill sits on Governor Kathy Hochul’s desk awaiting her signature, the mouthpieces for big developers are shouting in public about making changes to the bill before it is signed. The bill needs no changes. It only needs her signature.

 

Here’s what the bill accomplishes: It holds criminally negligent contractors liable for the decisions they make that resulted in the avoidable injury or death of a worker by mandating minimum fines of $500,000 and $1 million for each incident.

 

Today, the largest financial penalty authorities can levy when a worker is hurt or killed because of negligence is around $10,000. This laughable amount—which former NYC Attorney General Cyrus Vance called “monopoly money” to developers—is more of a rounding error in the billion-dollar budgets on these enormous projects. This small fine makes it profitable for builders to cut corners on safety (like not taking the time or money to install earth retaining walls). Even if caught and fined for the death of a worker, the spread sheet still ends up in the black.

 

Carlos’s Law changes that calculus and will start saving lives the minute it’s made law.

 

And now here come the voices from “concerned parties” with “reasoned arguments” to make changes to the bill. But their arguments are thin and often dishonest, and in the end, they aim to protect the interests of moneyed developers and the non-union primary contractors who do their bidding.

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Members of New Immigrant Community Empowerment, a Queens-based nonprofit, marched to remember construction workers who died on the job. The group has urged the governor to sign Carlos’s Law.

Desiree Rios for The New York Times

Why Can Unions Be Safe and Make Money but Non-Union Can't?

One such false argument is that following this law will make construction projects in the city too expensive for contractors to bid on and to make a living from. This is an utterly nonsensical argument. First, in 2020 the city’s construction industry was an $85 billion behemoth, and it’s growing every year. That amount, for one sector in this one city, is the rough equivalent to the entire economy of the country of Bulgaria. It’s ludicrous to argue that any developer here faces financial headwinds. Further, New York City construction unions, which put safety first, already follow the rules that Carlos’s Law would require of non-union builders. And the unions remain able to make a profit AND send all their members home safely after work. (Side note: We need a new law that would require that any building over a certain height, square footage or complexity must be bid out to unions only – it would save lives and protect our skyline).

 

Another red herring offered by the bill’s critics is that the fines are too big. They argue that the $500,000 and $1 million fines for negligent injury and death should be a ceiling, not a floor. But that argument ignores the deep pockets of the people paying for these buildings, and the utter powerlessness of the people who are working on those buildings. The cost of erecting a building in New York City will usually start at $1 billion. The people putting up that money can afford to hire contractors who prioritize safety, and they can buy insurance to boot. Meanwhile, workers at many non-union contractors are unrepresented, and therefore victims of crimes like wage theft. Many feel unlawfully manipulated, but powerless to object for fear of losing work or worker status in the country.

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Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn, who sponsored the bill in the Assembly alongside James Sanders Jr. in the Senate, said that the issue was personal for her. About 25 years ago, her brother Wagner fell off a scaffold while on a construction job and was left permanently disabled.

Seth Wenig/Associated Press

This deck is stacked in favor of the rich guys. It is their behavior that this bill aims to correct. Steep fines are the way to get their attention.

 

The Malicious Portrayal of the "Scamming Worker"

There is one argument the bill naysayers promote that is a complete falsehood. And that is the idea that every builder will now be subject to the threat of unfair lawsuits and very high penalties as a result of the "scamming worker" seeking a handout. One editorial on this subject went as far as to say that a company can be sued “even if a worker jumps off a ladder.” This claim is so laughably misleading that it is actually malicious. The language in the bill is clear: a contractor must be found criminally negligent before any penalty will be levied. That means an investigation must happen, charges must be filed by the city or state, a court case heard, and a finding of guilty handed down against a builder. There are plenty of checks and balances in that process to eliminate the phantom scamming worker who caused his or her own injury to collect a big fee.

 

It's Already Been Negotiated

This law, which sat in limbo for years, was brought across the finish line through a collaborative effort between the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY) and members of the Senate, directed by the current bill sponsor, Senator James Sanders. They mutually agreed to change the language around felony charges. The bill now has the blessing of REBNY.

 

“We are proud to partner on sensible and effective legislation that makes clear that companies who shirk their obligation to protect their workers will face serious consequences,” the groups said in a joint statement.

The bill has been through 7 years of debate and has now received input and blessing of the state's development business leaders. The time for negotiations is over.

 

Governor Hochul, ignore the peanut gallery. Carlos’s Law doesn’t need any changes. It only needs your signature. Let’s start protecting the people who make our skyline.

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