There has been a recently disturbing rise in construction site injuries and deaths. They rose 34% from 2014 to 2015 alone! According to the US Department of Labor the construction industry has the highest rate of drug users. A whopping 15.6% of construction workers are using drugs or alcohol. The New York Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) is proposing a law that will require construction workers to pass a mandatory drug and alcohol screening before they can go on the job.
ABC is a founding member of the Construction Coalition for a Drug and Alcohol Free Workplace. Also, everyone should have a concern for the safety of construction workers. Safety affects everyone at all levels of construction, not just the workers themselves. Safe construction sites and safe workers mean less interruptions in work flow and money saved. Accidents can happen without drug or alcohol influence. But, no one can argue that a clear head isn’t preferable to a muddled one. Construction workers work with tools from hammers to bulldozers. All of these can be deadly or cause significant harm in the hands of someone under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol.
So, why is this not already a law?
ABC New York President Brian Sampson wrote, “The reality is that drugs and alcohol are likely among the leading causes of injury to construction workers. It would be strange to pass worksite safety legislation while ignoring such a major negative factor in the industry.” However, there are naysayers.
Most of those against this proposed law are union groups who see it as a negative and punishes workers. How, you may ask? President of the NYC Building and Construction Trades Council stated that “This [proposed law] is nothing more than a diversionary attempt by irresponsible developers and nonunion contractors to scapegoat workers, shift the blame to victims, and cover up for their own poor safety record which puts profits over worker safety.”
If you have a perplexed look on your face, you aren’t the only one. Union and non-union do not only have beef over safety measures. In fact, both desire safer work sites. But, because everything else about how the two operate is at odds, safety is caught in the middle. Recently, unions have made a proposal that would require new workers to “first pass apprenticeship and training programs before they could work on buildings over 9 stories tall.” This, on the surface, seems like a good safety measure proposal.
Take a bit closer look at this proposed law of apprenticeship. You will see that most of these projects are ran by unions, therefore requiring union membership. An opinion article from the NY Post stated that “the bill would cost some non-union workers their jobs, and generally steer more work to union shops.” This is a bit more on the nose that what the ABC is proposing. A drug/alcohol screening law is not the same as a law for only certain projects, like building higher than 9 stories.
Worker Safety Comes First
The battle between union and non-union needs to take a backseat to safety. In all honesty, anyone looking to use deaths and injuries of workers to further their union or non-union agenda should be ashamed. Worker safety should never take a backseat to politics, ever! When it comes to construction safety, any sort of intoxication is bad. Drugs and alcohol have no place on construction sites or in the bodies of construction workers on the job. We will wait and see if the ABC’s new bill passes and what it means going forward for workers in New York.