Luxury condos and corporate office buildings are not worth dying for
Construction companies are putting their workers — and the rest of us — at risk. It’s nuts.
Last week, two people working on the construction of Marriott’s new corporate headquarters in downtown Bethesda, MD, tested positive for the coronavirus. Their illness was entirely predictable — and preventable.
Hensel Phillips, the prime contractor for the $600m project, said it would temporarily suspend work, clean up the site and resume the work in a few days.
The politically influential construction industry wants special treatment. Industry executives told the Washington Post that (1) their work is essential and (2) they protect the health of workers. Neither claim holds up to scrutiny.
Of course, construction work tied to the coronavirus epidemic should continue. We need to expand hospitals and clinics, and to repair decaying roads used by emergency responders. Building places for the homeless (or soon to be homeless) to live is vital.
But new corporate headquarters for Marriott or Amazon? Luxury condos? Mass transit lines or high-speed rail? Surely these can be paused.
The image above — taken with a iPhone from my apartment across the street — is all the evidence you need in order to know that the industry is failing to protect its workers.
I’ve been watching the Marriott building go up, and there’s not a day that goes by when workers are not clustered together for long periods of time.
As best as I can tell, there’s little or no running water on the site. Some workers wear gloves, others do not. They share lunch in close quarters.
Fortunately, some states and cities have seen fit to ban non-essential construction. New York’s Gov. Cuomo did so on Friday, March 27. Boston enacted an indefinite construction moratorium, but permits work on buildings that promote public health and safety, according to Curbed. San Francisco Bay Area officials, after allowing construction, banned most commercial and residential projects, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.
By contrast, the construction of Amazon’s new headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, is on schedule. In most of the southern U.S., construction continues unabated. Some argue that construction should be exempt from stay-at-home rules because workers are day laborers without health care coverage or sick leave — but that’s true of workers in restaurants as well.
Governments that fail to halt construction are making it easier for the virus to spread. When restaurants, coffee shops, retailers, gyms, barbershops and movie theaters have been shuttered, what makes construction so special?