Construction Workers Are Not Disposable

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In case you haven’t been paying attention to the news these last few weeks, things are pretty fucked up. Not only has the corona death toll surpassed Vietnam numbers, but countless states are already planning their re-opening strategies, all while testing and vaccines (and even thorough understanding about the virus) are evasive, at best.

Epidemiologists suspected this outbreak would be bad before the virus had even hit American shores, but you know what they didn’t expect? Do you know what has made this outbreak exponentially more of a catastrophe than anyone could ever have imagined? While everyone factors in the occasional incompetence when preparing their death algorithms, what everyone forgot to consider was leadership (and political party and major “news” network) that would deliberately mislead people, deliberately obfuscating essential information (apparently as hard to find as essential protective gear) in favor of hoaxes and distractions and downright fictional scenarios.

There is no way we will get to the other side of this unless we restore our preference for the truth. There is no way to obfuscate our way out of this one. People will literally keep dying until we acknowledge what is going on and deal with it in a factual, science-based fashion.

For those of you who have been paying attention, you are probably wondering why I’m furious about this today, since, well, it’s been going on for a while now. (Remember Matt Gaetz in his gas mask? Trump talking about how it was only one person who was sick?) I am furious today because IT WON’T STOP.

I am furious because I feel like the misinformation is being spread from all directions. I can omit White House Press Conferences from my daily routine. I can block out the hydroxychloroquine. But for the love of god, can the supposedly “liberal” news media get the facts straight? There is a limit to how many news outlets I can block out.

And when a journalist from the New York Times (yes, I know they have had problems for a long time, but still) who supposedly specializes in real estate and politics prints this kind of Orwellian bullshit, I cannot block it out.

In a joyous ode to the responsibility, compassion, and resilience of the New York construction industry (can you say that with a straight face?), Matthew Haag writes about all the wonderful steps being taken RIGHT NOW to protect construction workers who, for reasons that are unclear, have suddenly been called back to work.

(By “right now” I mean, “in an alternate reality,” of course, because anyone who actually speaks with construction workers knows that this article is garbage.)

The major issue here, which Haag glosses over, is why are these workers back at work in the first place? After a lot of public pressure, Governor Cuomo finally froze most construction in New York at the end of March. Strangely, construction (even regular, for-profit construction) had been considered essential, right up there with healthcare workers, until protests finally made Cuomo re-evaluate. (It actually isn’t that strange. Just think money.)  Construction for most residential and commercial buildings was finally halted, with construction continuing only on projects such as emergency repairs or hospital building.

While Cuomo’s policy has not changed, companies eager to get back to work are somehow managing to exploit loopholes in order to get work permits. For example: “Banks! Banks are open now! That means construction for banks is kosher now!” Etcetera.

The other issue is, while these sites are suddenly open and functioning again, they are DEADLY PETRI DISHES DOOMING CONSTRUCTION WORKERS TO ILLNESS AND DEATH.

It’s very cute how Matthew Haag envisions a world with lots of thermometers and special safety helmets that ring the alarm if people are within six feet of each other, with disinfected tools and hand-washing stations as far as the eye can see. I’d like to live in that world. But instead I have to live in this one.

Construction sites are filthy.

Construction sites are not offering thermometers, certainly not all (or even most) of them. Also, Haag may want to touch base with Governor Kemp, who was recently privy to some breaking news: asymptomatic people can spread the virus.

Running water and hand-washing stations are few and far between, even on a good day.

No one I know has a fancy social distancing helmet. Also, because of physics and math and logic, no one has figured out how to get construction done without having a bunch of dudes working on top of each other.

I’ve seen people ignoring social distancing because they’re wearing a mask. They don’t seem to have grasped that masks are only a precaution. Very few policy-makers are certified macrobiologists. None, in fact. Sure, wear a mask if you’re ill, and wear one as a precaution if you want. But don’t act like a bit of cloth over your face is a hazmat suit.

Staggered start times sounds great! But let me know when the Mayor’s office has actually talked about the logistics of 24-hour construction before we can pretend this is a thing.

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(an excerpt from Haag’s article)

Also, let’s not forget another important detail: construction workers do not live in construction sites. So even if, while they are installing fire alarm systems and building walls and using their infinite array of hand-washing stations, they are in magical pod-like suits with their own oxygen systems, what happens when they leave work? What happens when they take multiple trains to get home?

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I’m pretty sure the magical pod-like suits aren’t permanent. So then you have all these workers travelling from home to work and back, bringing all kinds of contaminants home to their families, and just like that, virus numbers are tripling.

In that case, thermometers on the job site won’t do much to help.

Also, as anyone who works on a construction site knows, all those OSHA rules aren’t exactly being enforced. So even IF the governor issued a mandate of changes that must take place so that construction sites could re-open, who is going to enforce them?

I understand that the economy is important. Construction workers’ lives are more important.