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Labor Affiliation Shouldn’t Matter When Rebuilding New York

Op-Ed Submitted to Crain's New York

Labor Affiliation Shouldn’t Matter When Rebuilding New York

By Brian Sampson

To say that “Building New York out of pandemic means supporting Union Labor”, Crains New York Business, February 3, 2021, is to say that overlooking hundreds of thousands of New York City resident workers in ethe open shop world is actually helpful in a pandemic.

In fact, the only idea advanced by the New York City District Council of Carpenters is to narrow the scope of the kind of worker we should support to a smaller portion of New York’s construction workforce - roughly 25 percent.

Let’s be clear.  When you analyze permits issued by the Department of Buildings (DOB) you’ll see that roughly 75% of the permits pulled for private construction are issued to open shop contractors.  It’s those same contractors, according to the Construction Workforce Project, where over 90% of their workers are ethnic minorities and live in the five boroughs.  It’s hard to see how such a narrow view of “support” is helpful to our city and our industry.

It’s also quite clear, according to data from the DOB, as well as from Governor Cuomo, that construction is not a significant cause of the spread of the virus.  Reports from the DOB have identified that during recent inspections less than 1% of any potential warnings were a result of a COVID-19 policy violation.  Further, the Governor has repeatedly shared slides during his press briefings that show construction is responsible for .66% of the spread of the virus.  What’s the conclusion to these data points?  That contractors and their employees, regardless of labor affiliation, are actively doing their part to stop the spread of COVID-19.

It is, however, easy to see how discriminatory and myopic the NYCDCC’s position is in a city of people already being disproportionately affected by this pandemic. The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) has found that COVID-19 has infected and killed more people in poor, ethnically diverse New York City boroughs than in affluent, predominantly white ones. This is where most of our merit and open shop workers live. Rather than excluding them as recommended, we should be doing more to ensure construction workers move up on the vaccine list and get shots sooner rather than later.

In a time when a pandemic is disproportionately affecting New York City workers of color, who are also experiencing increased and dire housing insecurity and demonstrated lack of access to the vaccine, it is unconscionable to advocate for special interest groups like the District Council of Carpenters. Supposedly, we’re all in this together. If we’re going to advocate for support for New York City and its people, let's be sure we’re advocating for all people regardless of their labor affiliation.

Brian Sampson is President of Associated Builders and Contractors Empire Chapter