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Are Unions Creating Safety Training Discrimination In NYC?

In 2016, it was estimated that the 1,600 worker membership of the Union of Operating Engineers Local 14-41B only had 20 minority female members. What makes that number really stand out is the fact that since 1988 the Operating Engineers union has only had nine percent minority membership. These are the big machine operators who make high wages, and these are the jobs that can pull the middle class back into relevance. But with the amount of minority participation unchanged in almost 30 years, it does not look like the unions are interested in changing their policies towards bringing in new workers.

In 2012, minority members of union houses filed a discrimination lawsuit arguing that they are not given the same chances at advancement that Caucasian workers get. The case finally went to court in 2016, and the world is still waiting for the results. However, a discrimination lawsuit against the New York City unions in this modern day shows that the unions still have a lot to learn about integrating the construction workforce.

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One Mandate For Safety Training Under Intro 1447

The year 2015 was a pivotal one for construction workers, unions, and non-union companies. After a series of fatal construction accidents, New York City started to significantly increase fines and alter safety laws to try and put a stop to the rising tide of unnecessary construction deaths. It is well-known that construction work is dangerous enough, but many companies make it worse by ignoring safety training and making construction jobs even more dangerous.

The New York City Department of Buildings started a campaign to increase safety inspections and make the penalties for repeat safety offenders stiffer. At some point early in 2016, the city decided that it wanted to put all of the city’s safety training for construction under one mandate. That is when the idea for Intro 1447 was born.

Intro 1447 started out as a mandate that wanted to create a level playing field for safety training with the union and non-union workers. The idea was to create a standard safety training program that all workers would have to complete in order to work in New York City. At the end of the program, each worker would get a card that would allow them to work. One of the initial problems was trying to figure out how to get everyone the same safety training. The unions offered their safety training program, which was obviously not a popular choice with non-union shops. But Intro 1447 moved forward, and that is when everyone found out that the unions were not done yet.

Discrimination Faced With Intro 1447

The safety training required under Intro 1447 was designed to stand on its own as a separate training program from what the unions give their members. But as Intro 1447 starts to get debated in the NYC government chambers, the unions are insisting that their members should be grandfathered in as already satisfying the safety requirement and not need further training.

In other words, non-union shops could not put workers to work in New York City unless they passed the union’s safety training program, while union workers could be put to work regardless as to whether or not they had yet completed their safety training. Not only does this cause a wider gap between union and non-union shops when it comes to job equality, but it shows another side of union discrimination.

Latinos And Construction Discrimination

In New York City, the African American population has seen an increased acceptance into apprenticeship programs and into the specialty labor force. From 1994 to 2014, African American construction apprenticeships in New York City unions have gone from 18.3 to 35.1 percent. With these rises in African American participation, the unions can claim that discrimination is a thing of the past. Unfortunately, these numbers only tell a part of the story.

Approximately 49 percent of all non-union construction labor is Hispanic, while the younger non-union construction workforce (ages 18 to 40) is 56 percent Hispanic. As construction grows in New York City, the population of Hispanic non-union workers grows as well. Another interesting point is that only 13 percent of non-union Hispanic workers were born in the United States. That means that the majority of legal and undocumented Hispanic immigrants coming into New York City are finding work with non-union construction jobs.

How Intro 1447 Could Discriminate Part Of The Workforce

As of September 2017, workers in New York City are only required to have 10 hours of safety training to be able to work anywhere in the city. If Intro 1447 becomes law, that number goes up to 59 hours and creates a series of problems for non-union workers, which more than half are Hispanic.

In order to get to work, a worker will have to give up nearly two weeks of work time to complete their training. Most companies, especially non-union companies, will find it hard to give workers that kind of time off to take their courses. This could lead to a stream of non-certified workers on non-union job sites who ignore Intro 1447 for fear of losing their jobs.

While the costs of taking the Intro 1447 courses are unknown, non-union construction shops are not accustomed to spending a great deal of money on mandated safety training. The cost of staying in line with Intro 1447 could force non-union shops to either ignore the mandate and put workers at risk, or take the cost of the training out of worker’s pay.

Since unions are lobbying to be exempt from Intro 1447, these new time constraints and costs would not affect the union shops. So while union jobs would be safe, thousands of non-union jobs in New York City could be in jeopardy. Since more than half of those jobs are taken by the Hispanic population, Intro 1447 could have a significant negative effect on that entire cultural group.

The Bill Will Not Pass Without A Fight

Non-union construction companies and their industry representatives are not allowing Intro 1447 to pass as-is without a fight. Many Latino activist groups are also getting involved in trying to prevent unions from taking advantage of this safety trainings situation at the expense of Hispanic workers. The unions insist that their training programs already cover the information workers need to know, but the unions are carefully glossing over the potentially discriminatory aspects of their version of Intro 1447.

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The union exclusion for Intro 1447 was not part of the bill that was originally introduced. The idea of grandfathering in unions and union members was added after the bill was first introduced into the city chambers, which is just one reason why non-union companies are crying foul. There was almost a one year lead up into creating Intro 1447 that did not involve conversations and debates about union exemption. Now that the idea of union exemption is on the table, many non-union companies are saying that the motion needs to be moved out of the chamber and back into negotiations.

Labor unions in New York City have been steadily losing their dominance over the construction industry since the mid-1970s. The unions look for chances to use the laws in New York City to try and regain their dominance, and Intro 1447 is another piece of legislation that unions are trying to bend to fit their own needs.

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