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Know Your Rights
Source: Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Subject: Workplace Justice
Type: Media Coverage

Real Estate Round-Up

captivating and revered brownstones and skyscrapers of New York City certainly didn’t put themselves
together. No, they required the skilled and labored hands of many a
construction worker, who too often sacrificed life and limb to build the
beloved structures. With so many recent construction tragedies, it is hard to
ignore exactly how risky the business of construction truly is. And that has
caused a group of officials, industry leaders and citizens to support their
construction comrades and combine forces in creative efforts to lessen workers
risks, improve workers and public safety and curb illegal construction
actitivities, reported Citylimits.

New York
City’s rate of construction deaths and work fatalities more than doubled, from
20 in 2005 to 43 in 2006, giving it the highest construction fatality rate in
the country, according to the most recent U.S. Department of Labor Statistics.
While the city’s Department of Buildings (DOB), which enforces construction
regulations in all five boroughs, has reported that the fatality rate dropped
by 43 percent in 2007, the injury rate remained the same and high-rise
accidents increased by 19.

and leaders are re-introducing legislation to hold the DOB accountable to
communities, helping the DOB to implement regulations in an easier and more
efficient manner, arguing for frequent and more in-depth regulation
enforcement, and requesting more money for building and safety inspectors,
according to Citylimits.

Assemblyman James Brennan, D-Brooklyn, has been fighting for reform since 2006,
when he held hearings about problems with the DOB. Just last year, he
introduced several reformative bills, three of which passed the legislature.
But the bill requiring that harzardous violations be re-inspected every 60 days
was vetoed by Gov. Spitzer, who believed it to be too expensive. Brennan
intends to redraft the bill and introduce it again. He is also pushing for "DOB
Community Accountability Act," which requires the agency to report all
"accidents, the investigation of the accidents’ circumstances, and all
violations issued" to community boards and borough presidents.

have not fallen on deaf ears. The DOB put intiatives into effect that require
more building-types and contractors to register with the agency and that give
the DOB more power of enforcement. In a three-year phasing-in cycle, the agency
will also list on its Web site new laws that among other things, modernize
building, fuel gas and fire safety codes. City Council Speaker Christine Quinn
will hold a hearing today to "examine, among other topics, if we need to
enhance worker training, whether city regulations around high rises are
sufficient, if we have a large enough workforce to keep pace with development
demands and whether the timeframe for the development of high rises is
appropriate," Citylimits quoted.

What needs
to be addressed most is the fact that hazards often more seriously affect the
Spanish-speaking workers and those who work illegally. The language barrier can
prevent proper training, which is a major factor in the high death rate even
without language hurdles. A worker organizer for Make the Road By
to Citylimits the complaint she consistently hears from workers is that they
aren’t trained. She explained that worker exploitation is frequent, and that
almost every worker she has counseled has suffered an injury on a worksite.

To back her
up, a report by the Fiscal Policy Institute in December stated that of the
200,000 workers in the construction industry of New York City, one-quarter (or
around 50,000) of them work in the illegal "underground" of the industry. This
shows "a strong correlation between construction fatalies and the
characteristics of the underground economy: half of the deaths occurred among
workers at very small construction companies, three-fourths of the workers
involved worked for non-union companies, and failure to provide safety training
was cited in over half of the cases," according to data from the federal
Occupational Safety and Health Administration, as quoted by Citylimits.