New York State Exposed: The cost of construction

Posted at: 12/09/2013 7:08 AM
Updated at: 12/09/2013 9:44 PM
By: Pat Taney

It's probably something you might not take into account when you're planning to put on an addition to your home but the Scaffold Law is an added expense according to contractors. In some cases it’s millions of dollars for public projects which are passed down to taxpayers. Contractors say one simple reform would save you money so why are unions against it?

Whether building a new home, a taxpayer-funded school or even highway bridge, when it comes to the Scaffold Law, builders claim it affects everyone right where it counts.

It's a law designed to protect construction workers and most agree those workers deserve to be taken care of, especially after a crippling fall but some say it's one sided.

Assemblyman Joe Morelle said, “They're able to sue and if the person who hired that person is even one-percent responsible for that accident, they pay 100-percent of costs.” Even if the worker contributed to that fall.

Charlie Davis runs a local commercial roofing company. He's says this law is driving up his costs not just by the cases but the insurance to cover for it. His two policies went up more than 100-percent last year.

Contractors say it's so bad, several insurance companies won't even do business in New York State. Those that do have jacked up costs and those costs are passed right down to you especially if you build or repair a home.

But supporters of the law see no need to change it.

David Young represents the Rochester Building and Construction Trades Council. We asked if he supports the Scaffold Law. He said, “I do. Construction is a very dangerous industry. In 2011, there were more than 721 deaths in the U.S. from falls. Our fear is if we change the law, it reduces any incentives the employers or property owners have to provide a safe work place.”

But builders and contractors say that's nonsense.

Davis said, “At the end of the day that's number one -- everyone goes home safe. We spend thousands of dollars if not tens of thousands every year in safety, training, equipment and monitoring.”

Critics also say this law is driving away business and development but unions and trial lawyers who support it don't buy that claim.

Young said, “The State of Illinois repealed its scaffolding law and everybody tells you construction went up 25-percent but in New York State it went up 29.6-percent that same period of time so I don't believe the Scaffold Law is holding up projects in this region.”

Most of that is in New York City. Folks like Davis say here in upstate, it’s not good for business. “Some smaller companies decide to cease operations, ceasing operations employees lose jobs, and businesses are closing down.”

Attempts to reform the law haven't gone anywhere in the state Senate or Assembly.

Morelle has tried but he says there's too much support in Albany for trial lawyers and unions who back it.

One proposal? A law that would still allow a worker to sue if hurt on the job but make companies pay only the percentage they’re found to be responsible. Right now, they pay 100-percent of damages no matter the reason.

A plan many argue is only fair but trial lawyers and many unions aren't so sure.

Davis said, “At this point in time I would have to say no and have to see where everything is and again my fear you start modifying law and all incentives to protect your workers go.”

And that argument has been enough to stop any bill from being passed or even brought to the floor for discussion. One hope is that Governor Cuomo could put scaffold reform into his executive budget.

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