Litigation claims department enforcement is lax
BY RICHARD KHAVKINE | 1/20/2023
The city Department of Buildings is jeopardizing city residents’ safety by condoning the installation of gas lines by unlicensed plumbers and other workers, a lawsuit by the plumbers union is alleging.
Plumbers Local 1’s action says that the union has been alerting the DOB to “substantial and
troubling evidence of wholesale non-compliance” with city laws. The union also claims to have possible evidence of laborers’ forged licenses and other sham records.
The suit, filed in Manhattan Supreme Court last month, alleges that the DOB “willfully refuses to enforce gas and welder qualification requirements that ensure that only the most well-trained, competent welders perform dangerous gas pipe welding and installation” in city buildings. Some of those requirements were enacted following deadly gas explosions in Harlem in 2014 and in the East Village in 2015.
A city statute enacted in 2020 mandates that gas work must be performed by or directly supervised by persons who hold proper licenses and have requisite qualifications. The suit contends that the DOB has “demonstrated hostility” to the qualification requirements and has not enforced them.
‘We’re not detectives’
The Article 78 proceeding contends that the DOB has approved hundreds of gas authorization requests without documentation that qualified and certified welders performed the work.
The department “also routinely approves gas requests when its own records conclusively demonstrate that the welder identified as having performed the work does not possess a legally required gas qualification or appropriate welder’s certification,” the suit says.
According to an affidavit by a paralegal, a DOB chief admitted that the department does not check whether contractors performing gas work submit required documentation. “We’re not detectives,” the chief told the paralegal.
According to the DOB, it is up to licensed master plumbers to ensure that workers are properly qualified.
“The safety of our fellow New Yorkers is our highest priority, which is why New York City has among the most stringent gas safety requirements anywhere in the Country. DOB only issues permits for gas-related work to Licensed Master Plumbers. These plumbers are legally responsible to ensure that the permitted gas work is performed by themselves or by qualified individuals under their direct and continued supervision,” Andrew Rudansky, a DOB spokesperson, said in a statement.
“New and modified gas piping work undergoes inspections and pressure testing in the presence of a DOB inspector prior to gas service being authorized,” he added.
The suit argues that the department’s disregard of city law and of its own rules and regulations have “created a public safety time bomb.” Without implicating the DOB, it cites gas-related explosions that destroyed residential buildings in the Bronx and Brooklyn since December 2021 that have injured residents and first responders. One of those, which leveled a three-story home and led to the demolition of four others, killed a 79-year-old resident. Among the buildings where the union contends unqualified workers recently performed gas work are the Ritz-Carlton New York, NoMad, on West 28th Street; an all-girls school on the Upper East Side; and large residential towers, including a 35-story luxury development under construction in Murray Hill.
The department’s disinclination to enforce rules about who does gas welding work and its de facto OK of what the suit calls “rogue contractors” penalizes Local 1’s “highly trained and competent members,” the suit goes on to say.
Plumbers Local 1’s Trade Education Fund operates a training center in Queens, jointly managed with the Association of Contracting Plumbers of the City of New York. It conducts a five-year apprenticeship program, as well as journeyman training and certification courses, and several DOB-approved certification trainings.
According to the union, a gas pipe welder employed by a union contractor is paid a wage and benefit package worth about $114 an hour while a non-union welder is paid about $60 with no benefits.