Lobbying Supergroup Launching PR Campaign Against NY Scaffold Law, Worker Safety

Our team of experts is working hard to determine what in the Sam Hell this b.s. slogan even means.

Our team of experts is working hard to determine what in the Sam Hell this BS slogan even means.

The New York Scaffold Law, in place since 1885, protects workers in cases of construction falls. But a lobbying supergroup has announced it will begin an advertising blitz against the law using misleading rhetoric (see image above) to frame the debate as, among other things, one of lawyers against workers when in fact big contractor bottom lines are what they hope to protect.

Opponents of the law have labeled it “archaic” and claim it hurts the construction industry throughout the state. Democrats have bowed to their donors and bucked their morals despite new cases of workplace injury popping up on jobsites affiliated with anti-scaffold law contractors. The fierce opposition is being met head-on by a counter-lobby of workers’ rights advocates and lawyers who argue that watering down the law will diminish the voice of injured workers.

Gary LaBarbera, president of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, told the New York Times: “This law protects both union and nonunion workers and creates a sense of accountability on these job sites. If the law was modified, the workers would lose their voice.”

The anti-scaffolders want to amend the law to include a standard of “comparative negligence.” As described in the proposed  S111 earlier this year, the standard “would require a jury or arbiter to consider whether the liability of the defendants, and thus the amount of damages, should be reduced for cases in which the worker’s negligence or failure to follow safety procedures contributed to the accident.”

Immigrant rights groups also want to see the scaffolding law remain in tact as workplace falls disproportionately affect Latino workers. Immigrants are often subject substandard working conditions compared to other workers and are more frequently exploited, meaning they are less likely to make demands:

From 2003 to 2011, federal safety regulators investigated 136 falls “from elevation” that killed workers on construction sites in New York, according to a recent report by Center for Popular Democracy, an advocacy group. Of those workers, about 60 percent were Latino, foreign-born or both. That rate rose to 88 percent among fatal falls in New York City.

The equation is simple: the law allows victims to collect large settlements, so companies who are liable for those settlements want to change the law. NYT provides an example of an injured worker who won his case using the Scaffold Law.

Weislaw, a Polish immigrant, was the plaintiff in a liability case that was settled last month. (He spoke on the condition that his surname not be used in this article, out of concern for his privacy.) He had been part of a crew repairing the roof of a one-story public school building in Long Beach, on Long Island. While he was working on the roof one spring day in 2010, he was concentrating so hard on his task that he lost track of the edge of the roof and fell, he said, suffering multiple fractures.

“I will most likely never be able to return to work,” he said.

Weislaw filed a lawsuit under the Scaffold Law arguing that he had not been provided with proper protection, such as a safety line or a spotter.

The war on the New York Scaffold Law is being waged through the lens of insurance liability. But worker safety is what has kept the law on the books for well over a century. These are not golden parachutes being tossed out like candy to workers. These are necessary sums for the astronomical medical bills, medical equipment, and lifestyle changes the injured workers must endure.  

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