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Why business groups want to dismantle New York's scaffold law

Posted by Marie Cusick on

A coalition of small business groups says one of their top priorities is changing a 19th century New York labor law that relates to scaffolding and worker safety.

Members from more than a dozen business groups, led by the National Federation of Independent Businesses, met with lawmakers in Albany Wednesday for their annual day of lobbying.

Business leaders say the labor regulation, known as the Scaffold Law, places an unfair burden on employers.

Currently, employers are held to absolute liability if a worker on a construction site is injured in a fall.

Business groups are pushing for bills that would change that.

"You could have a drunken worker show up at the job site, injure themselves, and that would be your fault as the employer," says Tom Stebbins, head of the Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York.

Stebbins says the current regulations dramatically increase insurance costs for New York businesses.

Business groups want to see the law changed, so that they wouldn't be held responsible if a worker is intoxicated, violating safety standards, or committing a criminal act.

Lobbying day demands

Scaffold law reform - yes, there's a website - was one of six issues business groups discussed with lawmakers. One item on the shortlist: opposition to raising the state's minimum wage. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) has made raising the minimum wage a top priority.

But Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Nassau County) said Wednesday he has no interest in raising the minimum wage. Skelos told business leaders that government needs to get out of the way.

"As elected officials ... we talk about government creating jobs," said Skelos. "That's not the function of government.

"You are the job creators, and you are the people who know how to get it done," Skelos said. "And government just needs to stay out of your wallets, get off your backs and let you do what you do best. And that's create jobs."

The head of Empire State Development (ESD), Ken Adams, also addressed the small business owners, touting Gov. Andrew Cuomo's efforts to improve New York's business climate.

"Too many of us actually believe what it says on the bottom of our license plates - that Empire State stuff," Adams said. "If you believe your license plate a little too much, you lose sight of the fact that we compete in a national economy - and we don't rank well on business climate factors, compared to other states - and we certainly compete ... in a global economy."

Adams told the audience that ESD works with businesses large and small, and highlighted a new series of statewide forums to help small business owners navigate the world of state regulations and paperwork.

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