Construction forges ahead in the city
despite virus threat
Construction workers continue to erect a structure at the World Trade Center during the coronavirus outbreak, March 16, 2020.
BY ROSA GOLDENSOHN
The de Blasio administration has encouraged
New Yorkers to stay home
as much as possible to help slow the
spread of coronavirus, closing restaurants
and bars and promoting remote work for
those who can telecommute.
But private construction sites buzzed
across the city Tuesday — even as Boston
halted projects and Vice President Mike
Pence asked the industry to donate its
respirator face masks to hospitals in short
City Councilmember Carlos Menchaca
(D-Brooklyn) and Public Advocate Jumaane
Williams have urged a moratorium
on “nonessential” construction work in the
city, but the call has yet to gain traction.
“These immigrant workers are not being
considered the way that they need to be
considered,” Menchaca told THE CITY.
Menchaca said he heard Monday from a
woman who is undergoing chemotherapy
and is concerned her construction worker
husband will pick up COVID-19 at his
“Every day my husband goes to the job,
we worry whether he will be bringing the
virus back home,” she wrote in an email to
the Council member. “I will mostly likely
not survive if I contract it.”
Groups representing workers say there
is fear not only of the virus, but also a
total loss of income. One challenge: Many
nonunion laborers in the city are undocumented
immigrants who do not have access
to unemployment benefi ts.
Protecting Workers’ Health and Jobs
Any construction shutdown should be
accompanied by a broader city government
plan to protect the health and livelihood of
workers, said Ligia Guallpa, the executive
director of the nonprofi t Worker’s Justice
Project, based in Brooklyn.
“The biggest concerns that I already got
from workers: ‘How long is the shutdown
going to be, and how is this going to impact
my ability to pay rent, pay bills, buy food for
my kids?’” she said. “Access to basic needs
for survival in one of the most expensive
cities in the United States.”
The Building and Construction Trades
Council of Greater New York, which
represents various union workers in the
fi eld, has not called for a shutdown. But
the group released safety protocols Tuesday
that included adding handwashing stations,
limiting the sharing of tools and reducing
the number of workers in confi ned areas.
Union contracts also typically allow construction
workers sick leave, a spokesman
for the Trades Council noted. Day laborers,
meanwhile, fear forfeiting a job entirely if
they take any time off.
Paid Sick Leave Fight
Occupational health experts deem paid
sick leave essential for protecting people
Employers “must provide paid sick leave
for any impacted worker that gets sick or
needs to take care of a family member impacted
by COVID-19, and encourage workers
to report symptoms, and there must be
PHOTO: BEN FRACTENBERG/THE CITY
no discrimination against workers who are
sick,” said Deborah Berkowitz, the worker
health and safety program director with the
National Employment Law Project.
Among other defenses, workers need
respiratory protection on the job, she said,
noting the mask shortage.
The city Department of Buildings
says it has spread the word about safety
Asked about any plans for work to be
suspended, DOB spokesperson Andrew
Rudansky noted that his department
had advised contractors to follow city
Department of Health spread-prevention
Contractors also have been told “how
to secure their sites if they are shut down
for prolonged periods due to cleaning or
because of a pause in work,” he added.
This story was originally published
on March 17, 2020, by THE CITY, an
independent, nonprofi t news organization
dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that
serves the people of New York.
Schneps Media March 19, 2020 13