NY mayor speaks out against requirement for formal apprenticeships for high rise projects

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New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has joined business leaders in opposing a proposal by organized labour to require workers on projects 10 stories or higher to have completed a formal apprenticeship program.

Video: Mayor de Blasio’s fire department news conference on Jan. 9.

The proposal by the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, representing more than 100,000 unionized workers, has sparked opposition from developers represented by the Real Estate Board of New York (RENBY).

The union proposal has attracted attention after a construction worker fell to his death at Two Trees development’s Domino Sugar project in Brooklyn, which the New York Times reported was at least the 11th construction death in 2016.

De Blasio said at a Jan. 9 news conference he believes additional inspectors and more regulation will be more effective than mandating formal apprenticeship training, which would in some cases restrict access to the trades by non-union workers as many of these programs are run by the 15 trade unions affiliated with the trades council.

“Our response so far has been to add inspectors, increase penalties and require more supervision on sites,” he said.

“I mean adding building inspectors, but also requiring supervision by the private sector companies themselves. We think all of those measures are going to have a positive impact. I certainly – everyone knows I prefer union labor and I am a big fan of apprenticeship programs. I don’t think requirement works practically speaking. I think the more we can do the better. I encourage it. I want to support the maximum use of it, but it’s not going to solve the problem anytime soon because there are always going to be some non-union sites. And that’s where our stricter regulation I think is going to make a real impact.”

De Blasio said the city has a large non-union construction sector. “I prefer union construction workers to be doing all the work, but the reality is we have a big non-union construction sector,” he said. “Apprenticeship programs help to make steady progress towards more and more people being unionized, but we have a right now problem that we have to address and that’s where I think more inspections, more requirements for site supervision and higher penalties are the ways to address that problem.”

The NY State Department of Labor reports that 47 percent of the city’s construction training programs are union-backed.

The mayor’s remarks are reflected in observations by REBNY President John Banks.

“The answer to improving safety needs to be based on practical suggestions rooted in empirical evidence, rather than efforts to preserve market share that will result in a substantial loss of construction jobs,” he told Politico.