Metro Council members and employee representatives announced a new bill to raise standards and oversight for Metro construction projects on Tuesday, Gustavo Enrique Ramirez’s 17th birthday.
Ramirez fell eleven stories to his death last June while doing a summer job on a construction site in Nashville. At the age of 16, according to the health and safety authorities, he was too young to be able to work at roof height.
His sister Jennifer Enamorado joined councilors and lawyers in the community who supported the Get It Right Bill in Nashville Public Square Tuesday. Ramirez wasn’t the first building death in Nashville in 2020, she said. He wasn’t the last.
“Today, on his 17th birthday, we stand before you, torn and broken because of the loss of our baby,” she said. “This year we will celebrate his birthday in a cemetery instead of a dining table. And while we are torn and broken, because of this pain, we are so determined to prevent this from happening to any other family.”
Nashville is known for its “alarmingly high” injury rate among construction workers, according to a 2017 report by Build a Better South. In 2016 and 2017, 10 construction workers died as a result of falls on site in Nashville. And in 2020, construction projects were one of the leading locations of COVID-19 clusters in the city.
The bill, due to be tabled this week, would set stricter standards for contracting metro construction projects. These standards do not apply to Metro Nashville Public Schools projects or contractors working on private construction sites.
If passed, the city would refuse to enter into contracts with companies that have committed serious workplace violations in the past three years. The Billalso would also establish standards for safe and healthy workplaces on metro construction sites, incentivize contractors who are committed to these standards, and add workers and community members to the Procurement Standards Board.
It was introduced by Councilor Sandra Sepulveda and jointly sponsored by Councilor at Large Zulfat Suara and Councilors Tanaka Vercher, Freddie O’Connell, Zach Young and Delishia Porterfield. Stand Up Nashville, the Equity Alliance, the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, the Southeast Laborers’ District Council, local churches and working groups also support the law.
“As the Metro government, we are one of the largest buyers of construction contracts and we will set standards,” said Sepulveda. “Not just the standard for metro, but also the standard for the private sector. For too long, Nashville was one of the deadliest cities to work in. This legislation is designed to change that.”
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The “Get It Right” bill aims to hold contractors and subcontractors accountable
The invoice would require clear, written contracts with subcontractors. Suara said she and other council members had heard many times that contractors were putting off responsibility towards subcontractors.
“I’m tired of hearing that, and so are everyone who worked on this bill,” she said. “It is time we held our contractors accountable and accountable, and so we made sure they hold the subcontractor accountable.”
Contractors with serious violations in the past three years – including death or serious injury on construction sites, wage theft, lack of clear written subcontracts, misclassification of workers, and violations of federal labor and civil rights laws – would not be offered Metro contracts under this law.
DF Chase was the general contractor of the La Quinta Inn and Suites project that Gustavo was working on. Gustavo, too young to work on scaffolding at roof height, received certification to use and operate the mechanical elevator. DF Chase said his subcontractor, Stover & Sons Contractors Inc., is responsible for Gustavo’s safety. According to Stover & Sons, Gustavo worked for a subcontractor he hired, Cortes Plastering – a company The Tennessean couldn’t find contact information or a Tennessee business license for.
“It was way too difficult to find information when something bad happened,” said Sepulveda.
The bill also calls for hygiene and employment standards on Metro construction sites, including mandates for bathrooms and hand-washing stations on construction sites and the employment of temporary workers who work on one site for more than 30 days.
Eric Coons, president of the Nashville Building Trades Council, said the buildings in Nashville are a testament to both the explosive growth and the workers who built them in dangerous or unsanitary conditions.
“Contractors shouldn’t be afraid – they shouldn’t be afraid of this bill,” he said. “You should adopt this bill like the rest of Nashville. It promotes health and safety and equality of opportunity. If a contractor simply works within the OSHA spectrum and provides (their) employees with appropriate training, they have nothing to worry about, nothing to worry about worry, and Nashville will benefit from it. “
Enamorado said in her family that small promises are “the equivalent of a blood oath”. In 2011, two months before she married and moved out, she made a small promise to Gustavo and her other younger brother.
“I told them, even if we were apart, I would always be there for them, for better, for worse and for ugly,” she said. “… With the support of this bill it means that I can keep this promise even if we are separated.”
Cassandra Stephenson covers the business at The Tennessean, part of the USA Today Network – Tennessee. Reach Cassandra at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (731) 694-7261. Follow Cassandra on Twitter at @ CStephenson731.