At a time when the construction industry has become more competitive than ever amid an ongoing building boom, it is crucial to ensure that companies are not cutting corners or shaving down costs at the expense of workers. The rise of non-union construction has intensified this issue – and it has become clearer to New Yorkers that unsafe projects put both workers and the public at risk.
Here in New York City, that conversation often focuses primarily on the large contractors and construction managers whose names are most visible throughout the industry. However, when we talk about raising and maintaining standards for safety, quality and support for workers, we must also talk about the hundreds of small and mid-size contractors whose work impacts projects throughout all corners of the city.
As a longtime union superintendent, I’ve been on enough jobs in New York to see that firsthand. Smaller contractors and their workers are the boots on the ground who often make the real difference between a safe and unsafe site. Even on the largest projects in the city, construction managers rely heavily on these smaller teams to keep things running smoothly. When they keep their operations tight and do the right thing, everyone on the project benefits – but when they don’t, everyone suffers the consequences.
That’s why I think that construction industry leaders should pay more attention to a site safety approach that highlights the role of smaller contractors who do it right, like our team at Exterior Wall & Building Consultants (EWBC), which has nearly 100 union laborers, carpenters and other workers in the field.
The reality is that construction safety doesn’t just trickle down from the top of the project and all of the mantras coming out of the corporate office. A real safety culture is built just like a building – from the ground up.
The key at EWBC is taking the wholistic approach of a general contractor even as we provide subcontracting services for many of our larger counterparts across the industry. Being a smaller contractor shouldn’t just be about delivering workers to a site with their gear and calling it a day, even though too many in today’s industry do just that in order to cut costs.
Our team plays a direct role in installing and maintaining onsite protection, to keep job sites and workers safe and to also protect the general public and adjacent properties. By taking on this work and interfacing more directly with the broader teams on larger projects, our union team can have a bigger impact on instilling a safety of culture and creating a positive atmosphere all across the site.
So while I respect and appreciate the many conversations taking place across our city about the largest contractors and whether they are upholding the proper labor and worksite standards, let’s not forget that smaller contractors have a crucial place in that discussion. Smaller companies must also be held to account when they go down the wrong path – and industry leaders should also learn from their approach when provides a good model for others to follow.
Michael Stuto is general superintendent of EWBC.