Featherstone: Construction workers need a strong Scaffold Law
Last year Adrien Zamora, 28, a construction worker from Ditmas Park, tumbled to his death while working on a luxury building in SoHo, after he slipped from the scaffolding.
This tragedy isn't isolated: Between 2009 and 2011, 46 construction workers in New York City died on the job, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Construction is an inherently dangerous job, and that's why the state needs laws to regulate the industry and make it as safe for workers as possible. Under New York State's current "Scaffold Law," property owners and contractors are liable for workers' safety, and they are required to provide safety equipment and training.
But developers are lobbying hard to weaken that law. New bills would undermine the Scaffold Law by shifting liability back to the workers in some cases, significantly reducing owners' and contractors' incentives to ensure safety on their sites. The bills were introduced by Sen. Patrick Gallivan, a Western New York Republican, and Assemb. Joseph Morelle, a Monroe County Democrat, but they have support among city representatives, too: Co-sponsors include Brooklyn Democrats Assemb. Annette Robinson and Sens. Eric Adams and Martin Malavé Dilan, all of whom represent liberal, working-class neighborhoods.
Even with the existing Scaffold Law, a recent Department of Buildings report found that nearly half of construction sites in the city are unsafe, because enforcement is so poor.
The organizations lobbying to pass these bills include construction industry trade groups, Chambers of Commerce throughout the city and state, and the Real Estate Board of New York and the Business Council of New York State.
It's troubling how little attention this dangerous legislation has received. And like many bills at the end of the legislative session in Albany, it's quite possible that it could pass in the dead of night, with little to no public debate.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is intent on wooing business interests, and activists are focused on the high-profile causes of campaign finance reform and women's rights. The public needs to speak up in support of the Scaffold Law -- or more workers like Zamora will pay with their lives.
Liza Featherstone lives and writes in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn.