Coronavirus hasn’t stopped construction in N.J., though N.Y. has. That worries some.
Construction ongoing in TrenonMichael Mancuso | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
While major cities like Boston and New York City have temporarily banned all non-essential construction amid the coronavirus pandemic, New Jersey is still deeming the construction industry essential.
“We’re holding where we are on construction but we’re looking at that regularly,” Gov. Phil Murphy said during Tuesday’s daily coronavirus press conference.
Murphy ordered all non-essential businesses to shut down or have employees work from home on March 20 to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, which has infected more than 18,000 people and caused more than 260 deaths in the state.
“That’s something we’ve considered but we’re still holding where we are,” Murphy said when asked if the state would follow in New York’s footsteps of suspending non-essential construction.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the immediate suspension Friday, through April 19. San Francisco and Boston have implemented similar measures.
The Associated Construction Contractors of New Jersey, which represents contractor firms that employ thousands of union workers, urged the governor to keep construction sites open as well, pointing to how hard it was for the industry to bounce back after the 2008 recession.
“The governor has adopted a thoughtful, balanced course of action. Our role is to support our members with all the information they need to keep job sites safe and functioning,” said CEO Jack Kocsis in a statement to NJ Advance Media.
He noted the industry “only truly started emerging” from the Great Recession in 2016, and believes that not dealing with an economic collapse is how to emerge from this global crisis in a matter of “weeks or months, not years.”
But construction workers have growing concerns, as do residents who live close to construction sites.
A Hudson County woman said she’s worried about her husband, a foreman who works at job sites around the state. Since the outbreak began, he has still reported to work almost every day, and few precautions are being taken.
“Life is on pause. Everyone is being kept at home. Why are buildings still being built? It’s alarming,” she said, asking to keep her and her husband’s name withheld out of fear of retaliation.
Murphy has implored everyone in the state to practice social distancing and stay at least six feet away from each other, including those still reporting to work. And the contractors association is urging workers to stay safe by scheduling fewer workers on a shift, cleaning bathrooms and equipment, and keeping distance during breaks and lunch.
This is virtually impossible at a construction site, the Hudson County woman said.
“They know they have to stand six feet away and wear their masks, but who’s enforcing that? And you really think these guys are disinfecting every tool they use after every time? It’s not realistic,” she said.
She also said her husband has worked at job sites in the past few weeks that have no running water or hand sanitizer in the porto potty.
But they don’t want to complain, she conceded, both because he feels lucky to have a job and a culture of resilience in the construction industry.
A Jersey City resident captured a photo of dozens of construction works gathering for their 45-minute morning meeting at the top of a construction project on Marin Boulevard.
He’s reached out to state and county officials to complain, but hasn’t heard back.
Workers who believe their employer is violating the executive order can file a report. They can also contact their union, or ACCNJ, with the location of the site.
“We cannot afford to have construction shut down because of negligent actions by some contractors that puts everyone at risk,” Kocsis said.