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City Council's construction safety bills divide NYC's real estate industry

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The City Council began hearing testimony on a package of 21 construction safety-related bills today

A new set of bills concerning construction safety are now at the center of a growing debate between different members of the construction industry. On Tuesday, the New York City Council began hearing testimony on a group of 21 bills that tackle several issues including crane safety, and requiring workers to take an apprenticeship program, Crain’s reports.

The thrust of the discord has to do with this apprenticeship program, which NYCHA tenants in particular say disadvantages Black and Hispanic workers, according to the New York Daily News.

“Adding an apprenticeship mandate to any legislation would create yet another barrier to employment for people of color living in NYCHA communities,” Charlene Nimmons, a resident of Wyckoff Gardens in Brooklyn, said in a statement. “A government mandate requiring apprenticeships would exclude many black and Hispanic public-housing residents from construction jobs, particularly those created by NYCHA’s ongoing capital-improvement projects.”

Some developers at least were in agreement with that thought process. The Real Estate Board of New York said an apprenticeship program very clearly favored unionized labor, but the organization did offer its support to the overall package of bills, that are being called the Construction Safety Act by the City Council.

Councilman Jumaane Williams, the lead sponsor of the apprenticeship bill told the Daily News that his support was based purely on safety concerns with construction site deaths increasing from 17 in 2011 to 25 in 2015, but he was open to the concerns registered by NYCHA residents.

“Thirty construction workers have died since 2015,” Williams said in a statement. “There is no other industry where workers die at such an alarming rate without significant preventative recourse. The Construction Safety Act will help government do its part in ensuring this atmosphere of safety truly exists by reducing safety violations and strengthening crane regulations.”

A majority of City Council members are of course in favor of these bills with several members having sponsored bills—these include a bill to increase guardrail and netting at construction sites, improve the existing tracking system on construction site accidents, and identifying and penalizing builders and contractors who continually violate the safety code.

“The Construction Safety Act will not only help prevent accidents, it will make sure that contractors who violate site safety laws are held fully accountable,” the Speaker of the Council, Melissa Mark-Viverito, said in a statement.

Opposing sets of rallies were held Tuesday in light of the hearing. NYCHA residents organized a rally against the bills on the steps of City Hall earlier in the morning, and the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York organized a separate rally to speak in favor of the bills.

The New York Building Congress asked the City Council to convene a task force analyze the legislation at hand and called for the warring sides to come together.

“The ongoing safety of our construction workforce and the general public is of paramount importance, and it requires collaboration and cooperation from all sectors of the design, construction and real estate industry, along with our partners in government,” Carlo Scissura, the president of New York Building Congress, said in a statement.