Amid Spike in Deaths and Spat With Labor, Nonunion Builders Launch Training Program

Workers on a building under construction.

Workers on a building under construction. (Photo: Don Emmert for AFP/Getty Images)

A new group of nonunion construction companies is pushing back on organized labor’s demands for new safety and training regulations by setting up their own apprenticeship program.

BuildingNYC, a coalition of 12 “merit-based” developers and contractors, is partnering with the Associated Builders and Contractors, a national federation of nonunion companies whose members provide training in the trades. Last year saw a spike in deaths on construction sites—with 11 killed on the job according to the city, and 16 if you believe the federal government—prompting a labor-driven push to create new rules and tighten standards for the industry.

“This program is a direct rebuttal to those who believe that quality training can only be found in the existing guild system,” said BuildingNYC spokesman Brad Gerstman, arguing that the group was standing up for nonwhite workers against the predominantly Caucasian unions. “The thousands of mostly minority workers that we represent will be able to get the skills training that will put them on par with any worker in the construction industry.”

The BuildingNYC/ABC program will combine standard Occupational Safety and Health Administration coursework with more in-depth instruction in various trades, followed by an apprenticeship at an ABC-affiliated company lasting several months. Employees at BuildingNYC firms will continue to work while receiving the training.

“Construction is by its very nature a dangerous industry,” said ABC spokesman Brian Sampson. “Building NYC has shown their commitment to the necessary training to ensure that the first priority of every one of their employees is that they make it home safely to see their families at the end of each shift.”

But Gary LaBarbera, president of the Building and Construction Trades Council of New York, dismissed the program as a “public relations campaign.” He noted that union apprenticeships last several years, and that organized workers are not allowed on job sites until they have completed their training.

“We exposed the truth about how unsafe the nonunion sector is,” he said. “So what happened in the past? So they didn’t care about it then until we put the truth out?”

The union head also referred the Observer to the results of a Freedom of Information Law request that indicated ABC affiliates have just 19 people enrolled in apprenticeships in the New York City metropolitan area—in comparison with more than 4,700 workers in Building and Construction Trades Council programs.

“It’s like astroturf. There’s no deep roots. They don’t have a strong member involvement,” Mr. LaBarbera said. “It’s almost an insult that they’re doing this.”

Amid Spike in Deaths and Spat With Labor, Nonunion Builders Launch Training Program