It’s time to get ALL of the New York’s construction and home improvement industries back to work

Governor Cuomo’s decision to begin reopening New York with outdoor construction contractors is a good one, however, not only should he expand the definition to include home improvement, paving and landscaping contractors, he should allow these businesses to resume in every region of the state.

Reevaluating what state government has defined as non-essential in Executive Order 202, such as landscaping, paving and all construction, would be a good step in ensuring that all regions of New York resume at least some economic activity come May 15th. Currently, construction on “affordable housing” with dozens of workers at a site is occurring downstate, yet similar work on single-family homes or commercial property, which requires less workers, is still prohibited. Even smaller projects like fence or pool installation are barred.

Likewise, landscaping for maintenance or pest control is allowed but it’s banned for beautification or for completing work on the jobsite of a newly constructed home. This lack of consistency has frustrated and confused businesses, their employees and customers. Homes that have suffered storm damage are currently going unrepaired because contractors are afraid to do the work as they may face a $10,000 fine under New York on Pause.

Not only is there a double standard, but science is now telling us that transmission is less likely outdoors. There is no good reason contractors can’t work outside if social distancing is practiced and the proper personal protective equipment (PPE) is worn. This shouldn’t be an issue since contractors are trained and mandated to wear a variety of safety gear as part of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) guidelines. Afterall, you have more people congregating in public parks or in supermarkets than you would have on a residential job site.

According to the Building Industry Association of New York City, “…our residential homes are predominantly 1 and 2 family where workers can easily and safely practice the social distancing protocols provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and National Association of Homebuilders, while performing work to complete construction.” Furthermore, the nature of their work already includes social distancing because the trades do not work on top of each other. Electricians do not work on top of plumbers; plumbers don’t work on top of carpenters; carpenters don’t work on top of electricians.

In addition to sharing the view that their industry’s extensive training, high safety standards and conformity to OSHA standards at every single jobsite translates into a workforce that will strictly observe all rules related to COVID-19. The Home Improvement Contractors Association point to the economic benefits that will be passed on to our city and state, “Collectively, all of our member businesses agree that it is imperative, for the survival of the construction industry, that they are provided the green light to go back to work in both the residential and commercial sectors as quickly as possible,” the Association’s Staten Island Chapter recently wrote me. “This will help restore the economy, restore some sense of normalcy to the State of New York, and provide their employees the opportunity to support their families.”

It’s time to get ALL of the New York’s construction and home improvement industries back to work, taking thousands upon thousands of New Yorkers off the unemployment rolls in every region of the state.

The Governor should reopen these sectors for the entire state and, if he doesn’t, the Speaker of the Assembly should call us back immediately to end Gov. Cuomo’s expanded emergency powers and restore the traditional authorities given to the Legislature so we have a say in the future of our state.