Times Union: Editorial: An attack on worker safety


Rep. John Faso seeks to use Congress to undermine a state law on worksite injuries.


The move would compromise workers’ safety and financial security.

For more than a century, New York’s Scaffold Law has stood as an important protection for construction workers for whom a fall can mean death or permanent disability. And probably almost as long, contractors and real estate interests that have made fortunes on the labor of those workers have sought to repeal or diminish it.

Now business has found an ally in U.S. Rep. John Faso, R-Kinderhook, who, in an end-run around the state Legislature, proposes a bill to chip away at the Scaffold Law. He makes no attempt to hide the callous, cold-hearted motive behind his assault on working men and women, casting it as a way to save money.

What this has long been about is fattening the profits of the construction and real estate industries by eroding worker protections.

As the law stands now, if a worker is injured in a gravity-related accident, such as falling from a scaffold or ladder, the contractor and property owner are deemed liable if proper safety measures weren’t in place. The law, around since 1885, is a potent incentive to make sure worksites are safe.

Business interests complain the law boosts insurance costs and makes it more expensive to build in New York. They also say the absolute liability on employers and property owners fails to account for the possibility that a worker may be partly at fault.

That might be a fair gripe if there was evidence of widespread worker recklessness, but all we typically hear are hypotheticals about drunk workers or employees ignoring safety measures.

The crusade to dismantle the Scaffold Law has failed to find enough sympathizers in the state Legislature, where Mr. Faso previously served in the Republican minority. Now he’s in a Congress controlled by Republicans, however, and hopes to persuade his colleagues to erode New York’s worker protections.

His bill would require a “comparative negligence” standard on projects that use federal funding, allowing courts to consider whether workers are partly responsible. He claims it would help lower costs of taxpayer-funded projects. In practice, contractors will likely pocket any savings, and injured workers will be at a disadvantage in court fights against construction and real estate companies.

Certainly there are state-related issues in which Congress sometimes needs to step in, like civil and voting rights abuses or anti-discrimination matters. In this case, though, Mr. Faso is meddling in a worker safety issue, and he’s on the wrong side of it. While there may be possible tweaks to the law, that should be up to the state Legislature, which so far has been loath to put profits above safety.

This is at least the second time Mr. Faso has tried to use his position to impose his agenda on New York. Earlier, under the guise of property tax relief, he managed to work an amendment into the House’s disastrous health care bill to ban the state from having counties pay a share of Medicaid — which would have thrown the state’s finances into turmoil.

A piece of advice for Mr. Faso: How about doing things for New York, instead of to New Yorkers?

Click here to read the editorial in the Times Union.