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‘Hard Lessons’ From The Hard Rock Hotel Collapse: In An Industry With ‘Lax’ Enforcement Of Safety Standards & Where Companies In Charge ‘Are Let Off The Hook,’ Worker Deaths ‘Are All Too Common’

What Can We Do? For One Thing, Our Labor Laws ‘Need A Serious Overhaul To Make It Easier To Join’ Unions - Unionized Workers ‘Are More Likely To Voice Concerns About Safety Conditions’ & Unionized Construction Sites ‘Have Fewer’ Safety Violations

Published Wednesday, October 30, 2019
by Terri Gerstein/The Prospect
‘Hard Lessons’ From The Hard Rock Hotel Collapse: In An Industry With ‘Lax’ Enforcement Of Safety Standards & Where Companies In Charge ‘Are Let Off The Hook,’ Worker Deaths ‘Are All Too Common’

(NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA) - We still don’t know why New Orleans’s Hard Rock Hotel collapsed.  However, we do know that the collapse of the half-completed building killed two people and injured 30, with one more still missing.  We also know that in the normal course of events, well-run construction sites don’t suddenly crash to the ground.

The Hard Rock disaster illustrates the Wild West that too many construction sites have become over the past decades.  It makes clear the magnitude of the changes needed to keep Construction Workers and surrounding communities safe.

When things go wrong for Workers on construction sites, here’s what too often happens: The developer disclaims responsibility, pointing a finger at the general contractor, who in turn points to a subcontractor, and on and on, until finally there’s someone relatively powerless (and cashless) at the bottom of the totem pole who will ultimately be blamed.

In this instance, Hard Rock International issued a statement expressing its sympathies and stating that it had no involvement in the construction of the project, naming the developer, Kailas Companies, and the general contractor, Citadel Builders LLC.

The developer pledged to work with law enforcement and the general contractor to find out what happened.  It also offered prayers and sympathies for the victims.

Local newspapers reported that the site had 50 different subcontractors and vendors.

Notably, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 130 protested and leafletted the job site the month before the collapse, alleging Electrical Workers onsite lacked licensing and training, and were mischaracterized as Independent Contractors.

Eventually, the facts will emerge about what caused the collapse, but this site was typical of today’s construction industry, which itself exemplifies what Obama Labor Official David Weil has called the “fissured workplace:” Companies avoid employer obligations by subcontracting, franchising, using temp agencies, or treating their Workers as Independent Contractors.

Fissuring results in degraded labor conditions: Each layer has to take a cut, leaving less money for the actual work; also, moving down the chain, one often finds scofflaw companies and contractors who cut corners.

Developers are generally off the hook legally if Workers on construction sites are mistreated or harmed.

Accordingly, they often have little or insufficient incentive to monitor the subcontractors’ compliance with Employment Laws and Safety Regulations on job sites, which can lead to serious abuses.

General contractors are often similarly lax, although they can be found liable under U.S. Occupational, Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) Regulations and sometimes other laws.

An ongoing case in Minnesota involves a labor broker accused of human trafficking.  The developer denied knowledge of the allegations and blamed a subcontractor for hiring that broker. Yet a few weeks ago, the alleged trafficker was again working for the same developer, who - in a Groundhog Day move - again denied knowledge and blamed a subcontractor.

Construction is one of the most dangerous industries, accounting for more than 20% of the 4,674 Private Sector Worker Fatalities in 2017.

Wage theft and payroll fraud are also common in construction, from California to Colorado to Washington, D.C.

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