OPINION

Where Is Our Outrage?

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Unscrupulous contractors cut corners on safety, unrepresented workers die on the job and the rich guys funding it all just keep getting richer. Why doesn't this anger us more?

One New York City construction worker has died on the job every month for the past five years. That’s the average when you factor over 60 deaths in 60 months. And the death rate is climbing, not falling. Ours may be the only big city where being a construction worker is more dangerous than being a police officer or a fire fighter.

 

You may dismiss this death rate by rationalizing that construction work is dangerous. True. But more dangerous than policing and fighting fires? Every expert weighing in on this tragedy agrees that far too many people have died, and continue to die, and the reasons for their deaths are absolutely appalling.

 

Providing Safety Costs Money, So Let's Just Skip It

First, consider this further enlightening fact: About 80% of these deaths occur on sites managed by non-union contractors. It’s well-documented that many builders skirt safety rules to make more money for themselves even though their safety-skimping endangers workers. Despite this troubling record, these non-union contractors are hired by developers because they offer lower bids — which are made possible by, you guessed it, avoiding safety rules (and other nefarious tactics).

 

If it was required of developers to hire only unionized contractors for big projects, the death rate on New York City work sites would shrink instantly.

 

A Boom Provides Cover

Second, builders seem to be taking advantage of the current construction boom to fly below the radar. New York has laws regarding safety standards and the protection of workers. We have the New York Committee for Occupational Safety (NYCOSH) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to enforce them.

 

But adhering to these standards costs builders money. Installing the proper safety equipment, providing workers with approved tools and training, adhering to construction safety procedures – it all costs time and money – expenses that too many builders see as avoidable. So, some of these contractors seem to be seizing this moment when the system is overwhelmed (40,000 construction sites and just 800 building inspectors) to get away with illegality.

 

When Death Fuels A Windfall

Equally maddening is the realization of who is being harmed and who is benefitting from the current untenable situation. While the victims of this fatal negligence are overwhelmingly Latino men supporting families in New York, the beneficiaries are wealthy developers who are enjoying boom years.

 

“Everybody is looking to make the most money possible,” said Senator Jessica Ramos, who has represented New York’s 13th district since 2018, of the current climate of the non-union construction space. “Unfortunately, that is done on the backs of day laborers.” Ramos has a personal connection to this reality. Growing up in Queens, she saw many of her peers lose their fathers in construction accidents. “It’s not a situation that’s foreign to me, and it’s grossly unfair that while my friend grew up without her father, the contractor behind that project is living it up in Manhattan.”

 

We Must Speak Out

But all these facts seem to crescendo in a mere whimper. There is almost no outcry over this situation that has taken so many lives unnecessarily. You must believe that if we averaged one dead cop every month for five years, that the mayor would be dealing with a citizen revolt. Where is our revolt? If you find it outrageous that one construction worker dies on the job every month, please take a moment to share your opinion through one of the below opportunities. Change will only come when we make the right people uncomfortable.

Unrepresented construction workers die at an alarming rate, one per month for five years, while the rich who set the rules just keep getting richer.

Email Your City Councilman
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