Opinion: The Problem Facing NY’s Construction Industry Isn’t Labor Shortage
Recent accusations in the press from leaders at Building Skills, a non-accredited construction training program, claimed that an uncited labor shortage is plaguing the construction industry. While they’re busy pointing fingers, they fail to address the real problem at hand—the fraudulent and deceitful practices of non-union, non-accredited apprenticeships like their own.
A labor shortage is an unfortunate reality for many industries as our nation works towards recovery, but that’s not the reason why some in our industry are struggling to fill open spots. In fact, in the New York City District Council of Carpenters union alone, there are close to 2,000 carpenters available and ready for work. Our Training Center has successfully recruited up to 400 apprentices over the past two years during the pandemic and we continue to attract five specialty trades to our union each month. Even as our city battled COVID-19, our union maintained 70 percent employment for city Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) and private development.
With the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act now signed into law, a better future for the construction industry is on the horizon. In New York City, the bill will create thousands of good-paying jobs for decades to come and union carpenters and construction workers are ready to roll their sleeves up and get to work.
Clearly, the accusation that the labor shortage is to blame for non-accredited programs’ plummeting recruitment numbers is just smoke and mirrors. Such programs pose as accredited apprenticeships that strive to combat the “labor shortage” by connecting hopeful workers to seemingly stable career pathways and safe jobs in the construction industry. But this is far from reality and a complete sham. Instead, workers suffer at the hands of these often developer-backed organizations.
They poach vulnerable community members—mostly low-income individuals, migrant workers, and people of color—and pawn them off to New York’s multi-millionaire private developers for cheap labor. According to our union’s internal investigations, some non-accredited program participants struggle to make more than a minimum wage, making them more susceptible to wage theft—a practice employed by unscrupulous contractors who refuse to pay workers the hard-earned wages they deserve.
Not only are they failing to provide graduates with the economic stability they claim to be able to achieve through their deceitful apprenticeships, but they’re also placing them in life-threatening situations. Make no bones about it, the construction trades are dangerous, and high-quality, accredited skills training is a necessity. Training programs and apprenticeships are the lifeblood of the construction industry, but this predatory practice takes us back to the mid-19th century and it’s certainly not how we move our industry forward.
The New York City District Council of Carpenters training center prides itself in maintaining high safety standards and rigorous training that keeps our members safe and informed while on the job. Registered with the New York State Department of Labor, our Training Center takes care of our apprentices even after the program by graduating them into a union career where they can earn family-sustaining wages and benefits.
The numbers don’t lie—non-accredited programs are feebly attempting to mask their exploitation by blaming a labor shortage during a time when the construction industry is coming back better than ever. Until they can provide the statistics behind their ridiculous claims, we must stop them from manipulating and preying on vulnerable New Yorkers who truly have visions of giving their families a better life.
The construction industry is the backbone of New York. When bad actors blatantly lie so they can easily steal from the mouths of working people and place construction workers on dangerous jobs sites, our entire city suffers. I implore our leaders to renounce fake programs claiming to be apprenticeships and support the NYC District Council of Carpenters’ efforts so that every construction worker gets the pay, benefits, and training that they deserve.
The article was published on citylimits.org and written by Joseph Geiger, the executive secretary-treasurer at the New York City District Council of Carpenters.