In letter to the editor, Crain’s New York Business:

Labor leader given soapbox on construction deaths

The assertions of Gary LaBarbera should not have gone unanswered in a recent Crain’s story

Crain’s recently reported on the manner in which the city’s Department of Buildings accounts for deaths on construction sites in the city (“Despite safety push, many worksite deaths go uncounted“). The article did a good job at reporting some of the agency’s inconsistencies, and then went on to explain how the safety issue has been injected into the union vs. nonunion fight going on in the construction industry here in New York City.

At this point, Crain’s gave a platform to the union representative to make just such a case. Gary LaBarbera, president of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, did not miss the opportunity afforded to him, and was quoted as saying that union workers feel more free to walk away from dangerous conditions:

“If they are in a situation that they believe is perilous…they have recourse in saying, ‘I’m not going to do this,’” LaBarbera said. “They can go to the shop steward and there’s someone there to represent them and protect them.” As for nonunion workers, he said, “They have no representation, no voice—they need a job.”

This is a self-serving canard and ignores that one of the reasons union shops have lost market share is because merit-shop owners offer the same level of expertise, but at a significant reduction in cost.

My organization, Building NYC, represents many of these owners and has been partnering with Associated Builders and Contractors in a breakthrough skills and safety training program that minimally equals—but likely goes beyond—anything that the unions offer. Our members are as concerned with safety as anyone in the industry. Why? Because our reputations and our livelihoods depend on providing skilled workers doing their jobs in a safe environment.

We appreciate Crain’s for its continuing interest in examining all sides of the construction debate. In the future, however, when seeking comment from one sector, we would look forward to providing the alternative merit-shop perspective that BNYC represents.

Brad Gerstman

Building New York City

The writer’s organization advocates for “a level playing field within the New York City construction industry.”

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