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Affordable housing or safe construction jobs: Can we only choose one?

New York City officials face a dilemma as construction worker deaths continue to rise in the city. According to the city's Buildings Department, there were 10 construction-related deaths over 2015's fiscal year. This is a big jump from the 5.5 average worker fatalities from the past four years. Worse yet, worker injuries skyrocketed up 53 percent this past year. With numbers like these, advocates for worker safety are urging for change.

Change is needed for construction site safety conditions

Community advocates are pushing for safer conditions for construction workers. They demand apprenticeships, union jobs and overall safe working areas. As we discussed in a previous blog, forty years ago the city's construction workforce was 90 percent union. Today only about 50 to 60 percent of the city's workers are union-based. Union supporters say that while private labor is cheaper, it is also a lot more dangerous.

State-approved apprenticeship programs have been shown to improve safety for workers. The on-the-job safety training reduces injuries and fatalities. Current existing laws only require apprenticeships for employers who operate under city contracts. Community advocates state that by using union labor and apprenticeship programs we can reduce many of these preventable tragedies. Yet city officials say that the cost of these demands will be too much.

Is the price too high for demands?

The administration is pushing back against these ideas, stating that advocate demands will add too much to development costs. Rising development costs would majorly reduce the amount of affordable housing which can be built over the next decade. Even if development costs rise, some say that reducing worker injuries and fatalities can be cost efficient. Better safety can lead to lower insurance costs and higher worker efficiency.

Even so, developers say that costs would not be covered. As rent and housing continues to rise in New York City, many people would be pushed out of the city. Advocates say this would be a small price to pay to keep workers safe. Safety advocates and the administration must grapple with the right answer for both workers and residents.

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