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City Council passes safety training bill for construction workers

The New York City Council has unanimously passed Intro 1447, a bill requiring most construction workers to take 40 hours of safety training. A major holdup had been the concern that many immigrant and low-income day laborers would be shut out of the construction trades by the requirement.

The new bill -- the third version -- added $5 million towards affordability and access. In addition, workers can remain employed until December 2018 or later as long as they complete at least 10 hours of the training by March 2018.

Violations by construction sites would result in fines of up to $25,000 per untrained worker.

The council's action comes less than a week after two construction workers were killed in separate falls last week.

There has been a major surge in construction deaths around New York City in recent years that has outpaced the rate of new construction, according to a 2015 investigation by the New York Times. That investigation concluded that time pressure had led workers without adequate training to take dangerous shortcuts. Federal safety investigators therefore found that most of these deaths had been "completely avoidable."

According to Department of Buildings data, eight construction workers have been killed so far this year. Twelve died in 2016 and 2015, and another eight in 2014. In many cases, the victims were immigrants who were unauthorized and therefore afraid to speak out about unsafe conditions or inadequate safety training.

The final version of Intro 1447 is somewhat different from the original version, which was introduced in January by Councilman Jumaane D. Williams (D-Brooklyn). The original version would have required 59 hours of training for most workers, with some or all unionized workers exempt.

Independent contractors, along with immigration and civil rights activists, initially opposed the bill. They feared that non-union and immigrant workers might lack the resources or language skills to obtain the required training, essentially putting them out of work in New York City.

Still a vocal critic of the measure is the Real Estate Board of New York, which purports concern that $5 million is not enough to cover all workers who can't afford the training.

"We addressed all of the issues that were brought to us by everyone," said Councilman Williams. "This was not a rush job. It took eight months. This discussion has been going on for years."

"We are not as a legislative body going to sit by and allow workers to continue to die," added Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.

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