New Tennessee Law Affects Nashville’s Worker-Safety Effort

A judge's gavel.

The state Senate has enacted a draft law that would forestall an ongoing effort to make construction site worker safety better. That effort is in progress in Nashville Metro Council.

Because the Senate passed that law in late March, it is going to Tennessee Governor Bill Lee. As for Majority Leader from Tennessee Jack Johnson, maintaining consistency across this state is the objective of the law.

It would keep local governments, including counties, from needing contractors to collect or reveal employee information for one of the following.

  • For conforming to safety and health standards that go beyond existing federal and state-level regulations;
  • For being accountable for what subcontractors do; or,
  • For hiring temporary workers on a full-time basis after a particular period of performing temporary work.

The law also bans those governments from giving preferential treatment to companies that provide the worker benefits during the procedure of procurement.

Senator Jeff Yarbro cautioned against severely restricting local governments’ efficiency just when they are on the verge of undertaking a big infrastructural spending, due partly to federal coronavirus stimulus packages.

Nashville Metro Councilwoman Sandra Sepulveda considers the legislation a direct reaction to her bid to set up several of those presently-prohibited policies for the Metro Government’s collaborator companies.

The councilwoman introduced that effort earlier in 2021 on the potential 17th birthday of Gustavo Ramirez. Teenaged Ramirez died due to a fall from a construction venue scaffolding in the previous year. The incident caused confusion regarding who among the network of subcontractors and contractors working there, was to blame for Ramirez’s safety and training.

Jeff Yarbro said that one would expect a teenager’s death on a construction venue to nudge both the state General Assembly and Nashville’s Metro Council to act to ensure that it does not reoccur. Unfortunately, that action has not happened, said Yarbro.

While the Metro Council’s law may have cleared one vote, it is still facing two more votes to be passed into law. Despite the Tennessee pre-emption, the councilwoman said that she would talk to legal counsel about whether the law should be changed, and in that case, how.

Sepulveda also stated that the law gutted her, in addition to a different to-be-submitted bill from a councilperson who has opinions similar to her.

She found the law unsurprising. As for her, it says that legislators would listen to lobbyists and interest groups, and that workers are last on their minds. She wondered how long councilmembers would keep allowing Tennessee to intrude into local government. She added that legislators have been preventing the council from acting in a certain way for years.