As the real estate industry and construction unions prepare for a legislative fight in the City Council over worker safety, new data is being released that suggests non-union workers are more diverse, and more likely to live in New York City, than their counterparts in the city’s trades unions.
A second study was then released Thursday evening countering that analysis.
The New York Construction Alliance — which represents construction managers and general contractors — interviewed 1,500 non-union workers on 27 jobs sites in the city. The survey concluded that about three-quarters of them are minorities and city residents.
Of the total, 52 percent identified as Hispanic, 18 percent as African-American and 3 percent as Asian, according to the data, which was provided Thursday to POLITICO New York.
Nearly eight in 10 of those surveyed reported living in New York City.
Tom Nickel, chairman of the alliance, said the survey sample conducted last summer represents about 15 percent of the overall non-union workforce across the five boroughs.
The results are meant to invalidate the vocal construction trades unions, which have successfully persuaded the Council to introduce 18 bills that they say would dramatically enhance safety regulations in the industry.
Nickel said the survey is intended to take aim at the most controversial of those bills, which would require workers to participate in an apprenticeship program or something similar before getting most city jobs.
“The relevancy is if that law passes, hundreds of jobs and thousands of employees from the five boroughs will not be in compliance and (they could) lose their jobs,” he said in an interview. “Do we really want to lay off thousands of people from the boroughs?”
He argued, as the Real Estate Board of New York has, that most accidents take place on building sites of 10 or fewer stories. Most larger sites are safe, regardless of whether they are run by unions, he said.
That argument is difficult to independently verify because the city Department of Buildings does not tabulate whether construction sites are run by unions when a worker is injured or killed.
The debate comes as the rate of fatalities across the city has spiked to 30 over the past two years, as construction work sharply increased.
Asked whether his results are meant to depict unions as mostly male and white, Nickel replied, “I don’t want to say that, but what I do want to say is that law will put all the good, open-shop people out of business and create a monopoly for those jobs again for the unions.”
Whether apprenticeship programs are run by unions is also up for debate. While contractors and developers often say unions have a stranglehold on the state-certified training programs, data provided to POLITICO New York indicates that is not the case.
The state Department of Labor recently said 47 percent of all apprenticeship programs for building and construction trades in New York City are union-sponsored.
The Real Estate Board of New York did its own study that found 59 percent of apprenticeship programs in the city are run by unions or union affiliates.
But every worker in certain trades, such as laborers and diesel engine mechanics, went through union-sponsored apprenticeship programs as of this month, according to that study.
Gary LaBarbera, head of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, dismissed the construction alliance’s study as cherry-picked data and highlighted a separate analysis released Thursday evening that found most union members are minorities.
“I did a survey of my kids and they think I’m the greatest dad they ever had,” he said in a phone interview. “When someone does an internal study, I give it no credence whatsoever. … It’s absolutely ridiculous. That is not a study. It’s not an analysis.”
Union critics, including the Real Estate Board of New York, argue the mandated training bill introduced in the Council this week is a ploy for LaBarbera and other union leaders to boost their memberships. He disputed that, pointing out the vast majority of workers killed on the job do not belong to unions and need an advocate for their safety.
“We are representing the non-union workers who have no representation,” he said.
The Economic Policy Institute, which bills itself as a nonpartisan think tank, released a separate study of employment of black workers in union and non-union construction from 2006 through 2015, and in union-run apprenticeship programs, on Thursday night.
The analysis found 55 percent of all union construction jobs in the city are held by minorities. Of that total, 21.2 percent are black, 30.5 percent are Hispanic and 3.4 percent are people who identify as other minorities.
The Council will take up its legislation later this month.
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