A tragic construction accident on a California project subject to a government-mandated project labor agreement (PLA) claimed a life last week. According to The San Francisco Chronicle, on June 11, 2013, an elevator mechanic was killed at the new 49ers stadium construction site in Santa Clara, Calif., (“49ers stadium accident kills worker,” 6/11/13):
An elevator mechanic was killed Tuesday in an accident at the 49ers stadium construction site in Santa Clara, police said.
Donald White, 63, was found dead in an elevator shaft about 6:50 a.m., authorities said.
A preliminary investigation determined that White, a certified elevator mechanic employed by Schindler Elevator Corp., was standing on a ladder in the shaft when he was hit by an elevator counterweight, said Erika Monterroza, spokeswoman for Cal/OSHA, the state agency that investigates workplace deaths and injuries.
The counterweight is carried by a cable to balance the weight of an elevator cab. When the cab goes up, the counterweight goes down.
The elevator company is a subcontractor for Turner-Devcon, the general contractor for the stadium project, officials said. The shaft in which White was killed is a permanent part of the stadium, not a temporary one for construction.
Schindler said that it was “extremely saddened” by White’s death and that the company “is committed to the safety of its equipment, its workers and the riding public. We offer our sincere condolences to Mr. White’s family, friends and co-workers.”…
…Investigators with Cal/OSHA joined police at the stadium construction site on Centennial Boulevard. Although the state agency didn’t require it, construction was shut down and workers were sent home for the day, officials said. It was unclear when work would restart.
Subsequent reports indicate construction resumed two days later.
According to the article and this OSHA report, this was not the first time Schindler Elevator Corporation, a union-signatory firm, has had serious safety issues on a project:
In 2011, Cal/OSHA issued a $25,000 penalty against Schindler’s San Leandro office for what the agency said was a “serious” violation at a Palo Alto construction site, when a worker fell 19 feet down an elevator shaft, records show.
The 49ers’ $1.2 billion stadium, to be called Levi’s Stadium, broke ground in April 2012. Scheduled to open in time for the 2014 season, it will host Super Bowl L in 2016.
On June 8, 2010, Santa Clara voters adopted Measure J, which allows the City of Santa Clara to lease land, previously occupied by Great America theme park’s overflow parking lot, to the 49ers Stadium Authority to construct a new football stadium, where the San Francisco 49ers would be the primary tenant.
In December 2011, the Santa Clara City Council approved an agreement that calls for the city’s Stadium Authority to borrow $850 million from private banks to cover most of the construction costs, with the remainder to be made up via a hotel tax, city redevelopment funds, and a $200 million loan from NFL owners. The primary building loan, plus interest and fees will be assumed by the City’s Stadium Authority, where additional interest and fees will be applied.
The stadium’s general contractor, Turner-Devcon, is building the stadium under a PLA with the Building and Construction Trades Councils of Santa Clara County and its Affiliates, as required by the Santa Clara Stadium Authority (the owner) and the Forty-Niners Stadium, LLC (the construction agent), according to this procurement document governing stadium constructon:
This is the third accident on a high-profile PLA project since May.
PLA advocates–predominantly unionized contractors, construction trade union officials and their members benefiting from job creation via PLAs–claim these monopolistic union-friendly schemes ensure a safe jobsite. By forcing contractors to hire construction workers dispatched through union hiring halls as a condition of winning a contract to perform work on a PLA project, special interests argue PLA projects are safer because they are built with union labor.
In reality, there is no compelling or conclusive private or government evidence to support the myth that an all-union workforce, and/or a workforce operating under a PLA, will have a higher rate of compliance with federal safety laws and regulations than jobsites not subject to a PLA.
As this tragedy demonstrates, construction is a dangerous industry regardless of whether a worker belongs to a union or if a PLA is used on a project. All firms and hardhats need to make jobsite safety a priority.