Its last call for the union hard hats getting hammered before returning to work on Ground Zero construction jobsites covered by project labor agreements (PLAs).
Last month, the New York Post reported the Port Authority is cracking down on drinking by construction union members following a series of accidents and reports of excessive workday boozing by union tradespeople employed at various World Trade Center construction projects (“Port Authority cracking down on drinking by WTC construction crews,” 8/6/12):
Plans for the crackdown began taking shape a year ago, after The Post exposed the WTC crews’ drinking problem when reporters observed the steady stream of construction workers who thought “lunch hour” meant “happy hour.”
But officials put the effort into high gear after a series of recent construction accidents at the site of the 9/11 terror attacks. While it wasn’t clear whether the incidents were directly related to boozing, the PA isn’t taking chances.
In February, 40 tons of steel crashed 40 stories to the ground.
Then, in late June, a worker was impaled on a length of steel after falling five feet, and a day later, glass rained down on the street after a beam crashed into windows 46 stories up.
The accidents all occurred at 4 WTC, one of the towers being built alongside 1 WTC, nicknamed “The Freedom Tower.”
Despite provisions in PLAs requiring a drug- and alcohol-free work zone, a commitment to the highest safety standards and compliance with labor laws (for example, see provisions in PDF pages 34 and 37 of the WTC Tower #4 PLA), little has changed since the New York Post exposed the dangerous behavior of the “guzzling Ground Zero guys” in June 2009 (“WTC hard hats get hammered,” 6/30/09).
In August 2011, the New York Post again caught union hard hats like members of Ironworkers Local 40 enjoying a liquid lunch at Ground Zero neighborhood bars (“World Trade Center construction workers drinking on the job,” 8/14/11).
Big Labor bosses and PLA proponents peddle PLAs to politicians and the public with promises that such anti-competitive and costly agreements ensure a skilled and safe construction workforce.
Yet, incidents like this and others on high-profile taxpayer-funded PLA projects – such as workplace drinking and multiple safety accidents on Boston’s infamous Big Dig boondoggle – undermine the promise of PLAs to ensure safety and compliance with labor laws.
Of course, the real reason for PLAs is to discourage competition from qualified nonunion contractors and their skilled merit shop tradespeople.
Provisions in typical PLAs require contractors to use only construction workers referred through union hiring halls, contribute to union pension and benefit plans even if they pay into their existing plans, and follow inefficient and archaic work rules, all of which needlessly increase the cost of construction on PLA jobsites. In addition, PLAs force construction tradespeople to accept exclusive union representation and pay dues and fees to unions as a condition of employment on the project.
Such provisions deter almost all merit shop entitites from competing for and winning contracts on PLA jobs.
In adddition, union bosses tout the benefit of PLAs preventing union strikes on PLA jobsites, but WTC Tower #2 suffered from a strike by multiple construction unions in 2011.
Finally, union bosses claim PLAs help deliver projects on-time and on-budget.
Yet, a February 2012 audit of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey pegged the total cost of rebuilding the World Trade Center site at $14.8 billion, an increase of nearly $4 billion compared to the last estimate. The project has also suffered considerable delays.
While the PLA certainly isn’t responsible for ALL of the cost overruns and delays, it hasn’t prevented them. Nor has it stopped union members from striking and workday drinking.
Public officials considering PLAs should take these incidents into consideration and evaluate the alleged benefits of a PLA carefully before deciding to lock the majority of the construction workforce out of a construction project.
It’s a shame the public and politicians have been lied to and the brave men and women who risk their lives every day on WTC jobsites have been exposed to such dangerous working conditions by their irresponsible coworkers.
Who will hold these workers accountable? It’s clear the PLA hasn’t, and the Port Authority, union bosses and contractors haven’t done enough.
One group seeking to hold companies accountable for their jobsite safety is the Construction Coalition for a Drug- and Alcohol-Free Workplace. The joint effort between Associated Builders and Contractors, The Associated General Contractors of America, Construction Industry Round Table, Construction Users Roundtable and Women Construction Owners & Executives wants to eliminate the injuries and fatalities that result from substance abuse-related incidents. The coalition website, www.drugfreeconstruction.org, offers employers the tools necessary to implement an effective drug and alcohol policy, as well as the opportunity to pledge to eliminate substance abuse from the construction industry.
Currently, 35 percent of workplace injuries and fatalities are caused by substance abuse. It’s time for that number to whittle down to zero.