A Brand New Start for New York City Development Policies

Each year, New York City invests about $2 billion to encourage private development in the form of tax incentives and grants. But, according to a report released yesterday by the Center for Popular Democracy, the city does not require as a prerequisite for those grants progressive development practices that ensure worker safety and health.

Under programs offered by the New York Economic Development Corporation, the city in 2013 handed out millions in lucrative tax incentive financing to corporate entities at 596 locations. Thousands more of these projects are ongoing in New York City through other funding mechanisms known as public benefit corporations.

During 2011 and 2012, 36 construction workers in New York City lost their lives on the job. Most of these deaths occurred on construction projects where no mandatory safety and health training was required.

These horrific stories of construction worker fatality could all change with the de Blasio administration and the reintroduction of the Safe Jobs Act. If the Safe Jobs Act is approved by the New York City Council and signed into law, it will mandate safety and health training for all tax-incentivized development projects.

City residents should be outraged that their tax dollars are paying for the unsafe practices of unsavory developers and lining the pockets of construction contractors with a known record of safety and health violations.

An example of these egregious acts is the Brooklyn Bridge Park project, which is tax-incentivized. In 2012 a worker was struck in the face by a heavy metal end cap that dislodged during a water supply pressure test. At the same construction site, a pedestrian was struck by falling debris. During the past seven years, Brooklyn Bridge Park contractor Hudson Meridian has been cited seven times for failure to provide adequate guard rails to protect construction workers.

New York City should take the high road and demand development policies and practices that will ensure safety and health for construction workers. The city should also hold developers legally accountable and culpable for the safety, health, and environmental conditions on their worksites. We agree with the Center for Popular Democracy that penalties for violations of safety, health, building, and environmental standards, as well as violations of community benefits and other agreements in public contracts, should be increased.

It’s up to you New York City. Let’s do the right thing and protect worker safety and health.

Keith Wrightson is the workplace safety expert for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch

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