STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. –The Building Trades Employers Association (BTEA) recently released new statistics it says show union construction workers in New York City were five times less likely to suffer a fatal accident last year than their non-union counterparts. Although, not everyone agrees.
The BTEA report said that 85% of construction fatalities in 2018 occurred at the hands of non-union contractors, and that BTEA contractors received 33% fewer safety violations than others.
Brian Sampson, president of the Empire State chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC), said the study misuses the data. His association is a national construction organization devoted to merit contractors, encouraging open competition and a free-enterprise approach that awards contracts based solely on merit, regardless of labor affiliation.
While the statistics were released by BTEA, Lou Coletti, the organization’s CEO, said the data was obtained through the independent Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). BTEA represents contractors in New York City who hire building trade union members.
“They are trying to compare apples to oranges, and are not looking at the entire marketplace,” Sampson said. “Our data really presents a very different picture.”
He added his organization also recently analyzed OSHA data
But Coletti said: “In a city like New York, a safe construction site is critical for workers and the public alike. And the statistics released today could not be clearer … Safety and security are part of the culture of a union contractor, and the quality of the work is second to none.”
Sampson countered that when looking at the data, ABC’s NYC members — which total 200 businesses employing about 50,000 workers — are “400% safer than the rest of New York state.”
“We would like BTEA to compare itself to the entire construction marketplace, to what they classify as non-members, rather than just their members,” Sampson said.
But BTEA stands by its analysis.
“[This] shows that year in and year out, union construction firms are the safest in New York City. That’s because when you have a skilled and experienced union workforce, the quality of work is better and safety is not just prioritized –- it’s part of the culture. These statistics make that clear,” said Coletti.
UNION WORKERS WEIGH IN
Workers for other unions said they agree with the BTEA study.
“The results of this study aren’t surprising at all,” said Robert Holst, a journeyman electrician with IBEW Local 3.
“While every construction job has inherent dangers, it is the training that union building trades members receive during their apprenticeship that makes the difference in regards to a safe job. Union employers are committed to this training and creating safe work spaces. The confidence in performing one’s job comes from training. There is no substitute for a union apprenticeship program,” added the West Brighton resident.
Said Mike Prohaska, business manager of Local 79, Construction and General Building Laborers: “Our members’ health and welfare will always be our number one priority, so our training programs place great importance on worker safety and safe worksite practices. Our signatory contractors hire our members because they want the best of the best on their job, and to complete their job effectively and efficiently.”