In Letter to the Editor, Crain’s New York Business:
Construction firm was exonerated after fatality
In an inherently dangerous industry, accidents will happen, but the only crime in our case was being wrongly blamed
In an op-ed in Crain’s, Lou Coletti, president of the Building Trades Employers’ Association, defamed the reputation of my company, The Rinaldi Group, by stating that it was a “bad actor,” putting it in the same category as another construction firm that has been convicted of criminally negligent homicide.
Put simply, Mr. Coletti has no idea what he’s talking about.
This is what happens when an accusatory climate of vindictiveness is created by a media frenzy: false claims are loudly proclaimed, reputations damaged, and when the truth finally emerges months later, small corrections are buried deep inside a trade paper.
What Mr. Colletti missed in his rush to assassinate my character was that The Rinaldi Group was totally exonerated by New York City regulators for what turned out to be an accidental death on one its many job sites. He was not alone in the rush to judgment, however.
When the accident happened, the local press had a field day, with one newspaper labeling Rinaldi as a “troubled contractor.” When Rinaldi was absolved of any wrongdoing, the same paper had no interest in setting the record straight by reporting that after a full investigation of the accident by OSHA, my company did not receive a single occupational safety and health violation from the federal regulatory agency.
In fact, the only coverage of the fact that Rinaldi was not at fault for the accident came in a buried bit of news in a trade paper that rehashed the original charges at greater length and prominence than the exoneration, which was tacked on at the bottom of the piece as follows:
“Update: The day after its license was suspended, Nov. 14, Rinaldi appealed to the Environmental Control Board to dismiss an outstanding DOB elevator safety violation at 301 West 46th Street. In December, the appeal was granted, the violation was dismissed and a $2,400 fine previously paid by Rinaldi was ordered returned.”
Mr. Coletti’s errors in judgment, however, transcend the defamation of me and my company. His argument that the contractors he represents have nothing to fear because they are “good actors,” is belied by the facts. Take Tishman Construction, one of the city’s most prestigious and preeminent union contractors as one example.
As posted on Block, O’Toole & Murphy’s blog: “Tishman projects have been the site of several high-profile accidents, including two in 2013 that involved pedestrians. One of these occurred at a site of Park Avenue, where a pedestrian was struck by falling masonry. The other involved a fence that fell from a worksite in Harlem, striking a pedestrian. In April 2015, Tishman said that its pedestrian accident record has improved in the two years since these incidents. However, the record since April has not been accident-free, as the six workers injured since then at One Vanderbilt can attest.”
This is not meant to take a cheap shot at Tishman, for it is a firm the likes of which I could only wish one day to aspire as a builder. Rather, my example is strictly meant to shed a light on the fact that we are in a dangerous business and one in which accidents do happen, even to the best of us and despite all precautions, safety training, education, and care.
In this kind of an industry even members of Mr. Coletti’s own association are at risk—especially when laws, as we see in the Harco case, are politically influenced to undermine the meaning of criminal intent. This is a frightening climate for every single contractor and builder in the city, regardless of their union or nonunion affiliation. This includes many developers who perform their own construction by contracting directly with the trades.
As far as my own company is concerned, Mr. Coletti should only know how hard The Rinaldi Group is working in order to improve safety standards and overall trade performance controls on its job sites. Before making irresponsible and vilifying statements, he should know that Rinaldi was at one time the first and only merit or open-shop construction management and general contracting firm in the city to be underwritten and awarded by Arch Insurance an SDI policy (subcontractor default insurance, commonly referred to by the industry as “sub-guard”), the underwriting of which is more rigorous than anything to do with bonding, which Rinaldi also carries through the A++ rated surety Ace Insurance.
In addition, Mr. Coletti should know that Rinaldi’s current experience modification rate (EMR) today is 0.84 and how it was 0.90 at the time of the accident. EMR is the standard used by the National Council on Compensation Insurance to assess or calculate an employer’s workers compensation insurance premiums based upon a comparison of past losses for that employer. With an EMR of 0.84, the employer is only charged 84% of the standard premium insurance cost expected by the industry.
Rinaldi is always looking to get better. After last year’s accident, we entered a probationary period with the Department of Buildings, and the agency helped us establish a program that created greater layers of safety and risk management, supervision and compliance controls among our respective project and field management teams.
The program has been an absolute success. Our firm, using the department’s baseline parameters , has reduced the volume of our violations from the agency by over 50%.
Rinaldi is building successfully throughout the city. In 2012, we were hailed by the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce for our project at 220 Water St., which was recognized as the Multi-Family Project of the Year. In 2015, we were celebrated by NJ Business Magazine as the fastest-growing company in the state, while on a national level, we have been equally touted by Inc Magazine, naming us for two consecutive years to the Inc 5000 list of the fasting-growing companies in America.
This past year, Crain’s New York named us to its list of the 150 largest privately held companies in the area, placing us No. 128 with the likes of the Hearst Corp., the Trump Organization, Bloomberg LP and the Red Apple Group, to name a few.
Rinaldi doesn’t deserve—but understands—the attacks from Mr. Coletti and others who are angered by their dwindling market share. With Rinaldi’s three-year growth rate of 505% and annual revenue in excess of $137 million, it is no accident that we have become a target.
Safety should not be a political issue, and accidents should not be routinely criminalized, which is where the current trend seems to be heading with the Harco case. Instead of casting aspersions at Rinaldi, Mr. Coletti should be working on behalf of everyone in construction to prevent the criminalization of accidents in construction so that even contractors who have most rigorously pursued safe environments are not scapegoated.
President and CEO
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