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A union-backed workers’ advocacy group has teamed with local unions to fight plans by a group of affiliated structural steel fabrication and crane rental companies to open three new bases in Newburgh, Port Jervis and the Town of Ulster.
The New York City Community Alliance for Worker Justice has lodged several claims against U.S. Crane & Rigging and its affiliated companies at planning board and industrial development agency meetings across Orange and Ulster counties in recent months. The alliance has been joined by the Hudson Valley Building and Construction Trades Council. The unions allege exploitatively low pay, worker discrimination and poor safety records at companies operated by Thomas Auringer, 52, of Freeport.
Auringer’s proposed local projects are in different stages.
- In Port Jervis, Auringer plans a $27 million, 66,200-square-foot project, including two 30,000-square-foot buildings for storing and transferring construction demolition supplies plus space to fabricate structural steel. The facility at 100-200 Skyline Drive would operate under the name Skyline Transfer Station, LLC and employ 54.
- In the Town of Ulster, Auringer’s U.S. Crane LLC plans to operate, lease and maintain $11 million worth of new tower cranes at 2-4 Kieffer Lane, across from Urban Precast, LLC, one of Auringer’s hollow-core precast manufacturing facilities. The project, on the site of the former B. Millens and Sons, Inc., metal recycling plant, would create 18 jobs. The company has applied to the Ulster County Industrial Development Agency for nearly $1 million in sales and use tax exemptions.
- In the Town of Newburgh, the Planning Board recently approved a $21 million, 66,100-square-foot structural steel fabrication plant to be operated by U.S. Crane & Rigging at 18 Route 17K. The Orange County Industrial Development Agency (IDA) recently granted sales and use tax exemptions. The IDA declined to provide the enhanced property tax exemptions that Auringer requested, opting instead to provide the company the equivalent to the easily available 485-B tax exemption.
Laurie Villasuso, chief operating officer of the Orange County IDA, said the IDA’s recent decision was based on the town’s recommendation that a smaller benefit was more appropriate given the community’s development needs. “If there were irrefutable proof that U.S. Crane was a bad company, I can’t imagine the IDA board wouldn’t include that in their decision,” Villasuso said. “But the board listened to both sides and decided that it would create the jobs it set out to create. The board’s main criteria is to consider a project’s economic impact.”
Eddie Jorge, an organizer and coordinator with the workers’ advocacy alliance, countered that there are plenty of reasons Thomas Auringer’s companies shouldn’t be welcomed in the mid-Hudson. Auringer’s companies have faced more than $230,000 in fines for New York City Environmental Control Board violations, though the final total was $140,000 because some of the fines were dismissed or reduced. Since 2005, they have logged more than 60 Occupational Safety and Health Administration notices of complaint, including citations for unqualified operators and for cranes collapsing and tipping over, according to public records.
As mentioned in our March 17, 2017 (Orange County Legoland Project & New York Labor Law Concerns) and April 10, 2017 (Orange County Government Center Construction Progress) blog posts, New York State law provides that and injured person who was in a construction accident, and his or her family, can recover not only for lost wages but for the pain and suffering, and in the case of a death, for the lost wages for the rest of the time that the person would have worked.
Construction accidents include:
- Ladder and roof falls and collapses
- Electrical accidents
- Defective equipment accidents
- Hoisting injuries and falling loads and objects
- Slips and falls and fall protection failures
- Float stage and form work accidents
- Back and shoulder injuries, amputations, and traumatic brain injuries
Where there is construction when heights are involved, Labor Law Section 240 — also known as the “Scaffold Law” or “Gravity Law” — protects the rights of workers who have been injured in construction accidents involving heights by allowing them to bring lawsuits against the general contractors in charge of the construction sites, and owners of the site, where height-related accidents take place.
Section 240 reads as follows, with emphasis added:
1. All contractors and owners and their agents, except owners of one and two-family dwellings who contract for but do not direct or control the work, in the erection, demolition, repairing, altering, painting, cleaning or pointing of a building or structure shall furnish or erect, or cause to be furnished or erected for the performance of such labor, scaffolding, hoists, stays, ladders, slings, hangers, blocks, pulleys, braces, irons, ropes, and other devices which shall be so constructed, placed and operated as to give proper protection to a person so employed. No liability pursuant to this subdivision for the failure to provide protection to a person so employed shall be imposed on professional engineers as provided for in article one hundred forty-five of the education law, architects as provided for in article one hundred forty-seven of such law or landscape architects as provided for in article one hundred forty-eight of such law who do not direct or control the work for activities other than planning and design. This exception shall not diminish or extinguish any liability of professional engineers or architects or landscape architects arising under the common law or any other provision of law.
2. Scaffolding or staging more than twenty feet from the ground or floor, swung or suspended from an overhead support or erected with stationary supports, except scaffolding wholly within the interior of a building and covering the entire floor space of any room therein, shall have a safety rail of suitable material properly attached, bolted, braced or otherwise secured, rising at least thirty-four inches above the floor or main portions of such scaffolding or staging and extending along the entire length of the outside and the ends thereof, with only such openings as may be necessary for the delivery of materials. Such scaffolding or staging shall be so fastened as to prevent it from swaying from the building or structure.
3. All scaffolding shall be so constructed as to bear four times the maximum weight required to be dependent therefrom or placed thereon when in use.”
The goal of the law is to protect the worker against the dangers of gravity. To apply the statute, the accident must have occurred when the worker fell or when the worker was injured by a falling object. The mere fact that the worker was “elevated” does not create a cause of action under the Labor Law. In order to get the statute’s protection ffrom injury from a falling object, an object must fall as a result of a failure of an elevation device, such as an elevator, pulley, hoist, scaffold, or ladder.
The New York statute provides special legal protection to workers while working at heights primarily for two reasons: (i) the severity of the injuries that result from elevated falls, and (ii) construction workers rely on the project owner, general contractor, construction manager or project manager to provide a safe working environment. This law is unique in that workers’ compensation prohibits lawsuits against construction site supervisors in accident claims in most jurisdictions. Filing a claim will not affect any workers’ compensation benefits, and both cases can proceed concurrently.
Liability under Section 240 is absolute. When establishing responsibility for a fall, plaintiff’s fault, if any, is minor. Liability cases filed against property owners or construction firms cannot be defended by presenting a positive safety record in the past. Related Section 241 of the New York Labor Law requires that employers provide safety equipment to all workers, and outlines how a site must be constructed, equipped, arranged, and guarded, among other aspects of managing a construction site and team of workers.
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