State lawmakers urge Cuomo to take up Scaffold Law reform

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State lawmakers urge Cuomo to take up Scaffold Law reform

State lawmakers urge Gov. Andrew Cuomo to take up Scaffold Law reform
October 5, 2017

A group of Democratic lawmakers hoping to take down the state Scaffold Law are urging Gov. Andrew Cuomo to join the fight by addressing the measure in his 2018 budget proposal. In an open letter to the governor on Sept. 8, seven Assembly members argued that the Scaffold Law should be reformed. The statute requires business owners and contractors to be held fully responsible when a worker is killed or injured in a fall or other similar danger working high above the streets.

Building contractors, developers, insurers and other opponents said the legislation has dramatically raised project costs while allowing workers to avoid responsibility for any role they may have played in an accident. But the law’s supporters, including unions, trial lawyers and worker advocates, say that it is critical to ensuring the safety of construction workers.

Assemblyman Robin Schimminger, one of the lawmakers who signed the letter and the co-sponsor of a bill to change the policy, argued that eliminating this specific law would not harm other construction safety efforts.

“It’s been the law in New York state since 1885, at a time that predated workers’ compensation, OSHA and a whole host of safety measures that would be unaffected by reforming the Scaffold Law,” he said.

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Cuomo has signaled support for reforming the Scaffold Law, but he also said that “you can’t change” the law due to the heavy support from building trades and trial lawyers. Schimminger believes that its financial cost will be enough to convince the governor to take action.

Even if Cuomo is reluctant to act, lawmakers aren’t, including at the federal level. Last month, Rep. John Faso introduced federal legislation that would negate the state law on all projects that receive federal funding.

Faso’s proposal came under attack by New York supporters of the Scaffold Law. State AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento and New York State Building and Construction Trades Council President James Cahill said the congressman should focus instead on getting more infrastructure funds for the state instead of “fighting to tear down a worker safety protection that will only help insurance companies make even larger profits.”

“Those who place costs over the safety, health and well-being of workers should be ashamed of themselves,” Cilento and Cahill said in a statement. “The Scaffold Safety Law is a vital worker protection, and we should not even consider rolling back its provisions and in turn workplace safety.”

Schimminger, however, believes that Faso’s approach does not go far enough, and that this problem is better tackled by the state.

“John Faso’s plan only deals with projects which involve federal funding,” he said. “The Scaffold Law in New York affects every construction project.”

Grace Segers
is City & State’s digital reporter. She writes daily content on New York City and New York state politics.