Iron Workers President Dean: “Apprenticeships ensure safety for construction workers”

In a sharply-written letter to the Crain’s New York, Eric Dean, General President of the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental & Reinforcing Iron Workers, laid out in compelling fashion the connection between registered apprenticeship and job site safety for construction workers.

Here is the full letter:

To the Editor:

It its letter to the editor headlined “Construction safety and apprenticeships are not one and the same,” the New York Construction Alliance continues to lead the propaganda campaign for opponents of New York City Council bill 1447.

As a part of the Construction Safety Act, the bill would require all contractors—union or nonunion—to provide a basic level of safety training for all their workers. The measure is overdue, considering the history of fatalities and injuries in New York City.

Of the 31 New York City construction-worker deaths in 2015-2016, 90% occurred on nonunion jobsites because nonunion workers do not receive adequate safety training. If that’s not proof that there are “renegade contractors looking to squeeze every penny of profit from their project,” then what is?

In contrast, union workers come to work with adequate safety training as their collective bargaining agreements require them to complete necessary training through apprenticeship programs, including all safety training required for the job. Council bill 1447 would require nonunion contractors and developers to provide comparable safety training and meet higher safety standards. Therein lies the issue nonunion opponents like the Construction Alliance have with the pending measure—having to invest more in safety training for their workers. They do not want to be held accountable and required to meet higher standards. It’s as simple as that.

Accredited by the Department of Labor, union apprenticeships not only teach the necessary skills needed for a given trade, but also require hours of dedicated safety training. The department requires apprenticeship programs to have a minimum of 144 hours of related instruction and 2,000 hours of on-the-job training per year. Earn-while-you-learn apprenticeship models such as the Iron Workers’ 3- to 4-year program provide 6,000 to 8,000 hours of on-the-job training and over 700 hours of classroom training. Building trade unions set the bar high when it comes to training and safety.

Nonunion safety training programs are “opaque and shrouded in mystery,” to put it in the words of the Construction Alliance’s Kenneth Thomas. Currently, the New York City Building Code only requires that employees on buildings 10 stories or 100,000 square feet and higher have a 10-hour safety-training course to receive their OSHA 10 card. No training requirement is in place for buildings under 10 stories or 100,000 square feet. All other OSHA training is deemed voluntary.

Apprenticeships are not “monopolized” by unions. In fact, nonunion entities can and do have apprenticeship programs, but whether they are accredited and/or meet necessary training and safety standards is questionable.

Safety training should absolutely be linked to training in the skilled trades and it is not a separate issue. It is shocking to hear anyone suggest that safety shouldn’t be a part of training in the skilled trades. What’s training without safety in the building trades?

As for the preposterous claim that the council bill would discriminate against minorities: Building trades unions are far more diverse than the nonunion sector in the New York City, with 51% minority workers. It’s a fact.

There’s a reason why the pending legislation has 42 sponsors and the support of the mayor. It will save lives, requiring those who don’t meet safety training standards to meet higher standards like that of building trade unions.

Eric Dean
General president
Iron Workers International