New York construction boom fueled by immigrant workers

New York City is experiencing an unprecedented construction boom. Spending on construction increased by 73 percent to $11.9 billion in 2013, and then spiked by 26 percent last year to $36 billion. Most of the spending is on luxury residences in Manhattan, with a big chunk of the rest devoted to Brooklyn, just across the East River. (Bloomberg, April 30)

The prices for existing residences are also bubbling. A fancy, three-bedroom apartment sold this past week for $21 million. Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village, a development with approximately 12,000 apartments on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, just sold this fall for $5.5 billion.

Buildings on the Lower East Side which were “old law tenements” 30 years ago — with one shared toilet on each floor — now are gleaming renovations where fifth floor walk-ups go for $5,000 a month.

Along with this boom of investment in luxury housing, there has been a spike in accidents and deaths — generally, according to the New York Times, among undocumented, unorganized construction workers. (Nov. 27, 2015)

From July 2014 to July 2015, according to New York City’s building department, there were ten deaths. Since July, seven workers have died on the job according to the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

There were 342 workers injured in 314 accidents in the past fiscal year. Most of the accidents occurred in Manhattan. The next borough in most recorded accidents is Brooklyn, with the Bronx and Queens having roughly the same much smaller number.

The number of accidents has increased faster than the increase in construction activity. The number of new construction permits issued in fiscal year 2014 is up only 11 percent and the number of renovations is up just 6 percent. But the number of reported accidents has more than doubled.

Most of the accidents could have been prevented by following basic safety rules, having workers wear helmets and harnesses and not pushing them to ignore slippery conditions. Since, in construction, time is money made, supervisors often push workers to take dangerous shortcuts. Workers feel if they don’t do what their bosses want, they will lose their jobs. Often they are not provided with safety training.

Both OSHA and the city’s Department of Buildings have inspectors. But OSHA has just 33 inspectors for the city and 66 for the state, numbers which workers’ advocates say are not nearly enough.

The city has proposed hiring an additional 100 inspectors, but often they spend far more time in documenting how and why an accident occurred rather than examining job sites to prevent them.

Given that a lot of construction in New York City occurs in densely populated areas, dangerous conditions on job sites also mean danger for passersby.

The huge profits that capitalists are currently making in New York real estate come at the risk of workers’ lives. We need a system that will supply homes and housing for all without creating dangerous situations that could easily be avoided.