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5 New Year’s Resolutions For Non-Union Contractors

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2023 saw a lot of efforts among unions and legislators to bring more fairness to the way construction jobs are bid, awarded and run. Unfortunately, too many non-union contractors stuck to their old script.

By Mark Colangelo

Most of the construction industry's dangerous and pernicious issues take place on non-union job sites. This fact can be attributed to unionized construction’s strict adherence to procedures, comprehensive training and apprenticeship programs, and ability to resist pressure from developers seeking cost reductions that endanger workers or the integrity of the building. As a new year begins, we decided to take the opportunity to outline some of the myriad issues plaguing the non-union side of the construction industry. From hiring “baby roofers” to stealing wages, bid rigging and more, there is a lot of room for improvement. We hope they find this list helpful.

1. Pay Workers a Livable Wage

Amid a booming construction sector in New York City, it’s time for non-union contractors to step up and address the issue of underpaid workers. Despite soaring revenues, many non-union laborers earn significantly below the national average, struggling to afford living costs in the city. They are often paid so poorly that they can’t even afford to live in the affordable housing developments that they are building. This is not an issue on the union side, where workers are paid a wage that reflects dangerous and challenging work that they do.

2. Stop Cheating on Bids

This is a pretty straightforward one. Recent legal actions against non-union contractors in New York City, such as those involving McAlpine Contracting, Inc., have spotlighted the issue of bid rigging and bribery. These practices not only undermine fair competition, they erode the integrity of the entire construction industry. It’s time for non-union contractors to play by the rules and allow contracts to be awarded based on merit and not underhanded tactics.

It's time for non-union contractors to take stock and make improvements. It's about contributing to a safer, more ethical, and equitable construction industry.

3. Stop Hiring "Baby Roofers"

We shouldn’t have to say this, but it’s time non-union contractors stop the dangerous, unethical practice of hiring underage workers, known as ruferitos or "baby roofers". This term refers to the exploitation of young, often immigrant workers in dangerous roofing jobs. These ruferitos lack proper training and are often not provided with safety equipment when they are sent on high risk jobs. This has led to numerous preventable accidents and fatalities. It’s time to end the exploitation. This deplorable practice is not present in union construction, where all workers are highly trained adults.

4. Stop Stealing Wages

Yes, wage theft is still a thing. It happens almost exclusively on non-union job sites and costs workers and every day new yorkers billions. The passage of the Wage Theft Accountability Act in New York highlights the severity of wage theft in the non-union construction sector. With the new law, employers caught stealing wages now face stricter penalties, including felony charges and jail time. Hopefully this motivates non-union contractors to follow ethical practices in compensating their workers in 2024.

5. Crack Down on Phony Training Cards
Non-union contractors need to step up their efforts to root out fake training cards. The issue of fraudulent safety training credentials, such as Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cards and Once Site Safety Training (SST) cards, has been a persistent problem. It not only undermines the safety of workers, but the integrity of the construction project. On a union job site, you can be sure all workers have gone through the rigorous training and apprenticeships programs that make them the most highly skilled in the world.

As we embrace the challenges and opportunities of 2024, it's time for non-union contractors to take stock and make improvements. Working on these issues is not just about compliance or avoiding legal repercussions. It's about contributing to a safer, more ethical, and equitable construction industry.

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Mark Colangelo is a writer and blogger.

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