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In NYC Construction,
Union-Built is Better Built

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According to a recent US Department of Labor report, the New York construction industry is 70.5% non-union. This is not good for New York.

It’s common sense, so why are we trusting developers to put up high rises with non-union labor?

New York City is in the midst of a generational construction boom. Since 2008 the size of the building industry has grown faster and larger than anyone could have predicted. Unfortunately the lion share of that growth has been in the non-union sector. More contractors who do not employ union members are winning bids on large projects.


According to a 2022 report published by the US Department of Labor, the New York construction industry is now 70.5% non-union labor, and just 29.5% union.


This is not good for New York. Work done by New York’s construction unions is better quality than the same done by non-unions. More non-union-built high rises here means more headaches for New Yorkers.

We’ve shown you luxury buildings put up in New York by non-unions that have become unbearable, money-pit hassles for residents. From Brooklyn, to Queens, to Manhattan, regretful tenants tell us, beware non-union.


The superior work of unions has been shared on this site in interviews with Department of Buildings inspectors, real estate executives, public officials, political leaders, and the tradespeople themselves. Each of them echoed the same bottom line: Union-built is better-built.

Work done by New York’s construction unions is better quality than work done by non-unions. More non-union-built high rises means more headaches for New Yorkers.

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National Labor Department data shows the impact of right-to-work laws on union membership. The right-to-work red states in the chart above all have union membership rates that are below, some well below, the national average. 

Union’s Are Serious About Training

​And it’s easy to understand why so many New Yorkers believe that union work is just better.


Most trade unions in New York require that their members complete an apprenticeship to perfect their trade. The length and intensity of these programs is arduous, and they result in the best-trained trades men and women in the business.

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Trident is a non-union contractor managing many construction sites in New York City, including the enormous remodel at the Waldorf Astoria. Two nearly identical gruesome injuries occurred just weeks apart at the non-union Waldorf job. One source named inappropriate, faulty equipment for the accidents.

Local 46 Metal Latherers and Ironworkers require completion of a 4-year program, and every member must complete 188 hours of training—that’s more than 4 weeks—every single year.


The New York Carpenters Union also requires a 4-year apprenticeship combining on-the-job-training, classroom instruction and shop time at the Carpenters Training Center. They also require 144 hours of annual classroom instruction to stay up to date on new techniques, tools, and safety.


The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 3 also have a 4-year apprenticeship and annual training requirements. These are just a few of the well-trained unions who have created our skyline.


Meanwhile, not a single non-union contractor can claim that they require an apprenticeship. Some will talk about their new attention to safety training. But New York local law 196 requires that all workers must have at least 40 hours of safety training annually. So the non-union guys are crowing about doing the minimum.

As one building inspector told Union-Built Matters, "On non-union sites you have no idea who on the crew has been trained in what, or if they have licenses to practice their trade or if those licenses are up to date. There are no records to check. I’ve never seen any.”

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The state-of-the-art Carpenters Union training facility.

Safety Comes First

The number one rule in every union is “Safety First,” a fact that comes through in the number of injuries and fatalities that occur in the city. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) well over 80% of on-the-job deaths and serious injuries occur on non-union job sites.


One seldom-discussed reason for this death disparity is that unions train members to become experts in a single area - while non-unions expect their workers to be jacks-of-all-trades. On a union job a trained and certified welder will bond a metal joint. On a non-union job, people with no such experience or certification are often made to weld joints. In one case in Brooklyn, a laborer was made to weld a joint—she had no training, no face or hand guards—and she ended up in the hospital with burns and temporary blindness.

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On the non-union construction job at 61 Bond Street in Brooklyn, Paul Kennedy was killed when an under-maintained crane malfunctioned and a part dislodged and struck him. Safety training includes the proper maintenance of equipment.

Safety also means giving the workers the time they need to do their jobs effectively. We’ve heard workers on many non-union jobs talk about being rushed by foremen to meet unrealistic deadlines and how that pressure has caused mistakes and shoddiness.


Fair Pay

Unions pay their members the living wage mandated in their region. It’s part of the deal. Members get benefits, like healthcare coverage, sick leave and pay, holidays, overtime. In fact, these are benefits that most working people in this country share because unions fought and won them for us.


But on the non-union side, too often workers must deal with wage theft, which includes being shafted for the hours they’ve worked, being denied overtime, or being shorted on their hourly rate.


All of these factors make it much more likely that a union member working on a New York City high rise will be able to focus on the job at hand, will apply the very latest techniques they’ve learned and use the best tools and processes they’ve been trained on. Meanwhile, many non-union workers are pressured to meet unrealistic deadlines, are wondering if they’ll get paid, if they have the skills to perform a task they’ve been given, or if they are safe.


Which crew do you think will build you a better building? Despite your obvious answer, more developers continue to hire non-union contractors to put up their buildings. This is not good for New York.

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