Philly Council bill would tighten construction rules

Posted: October 05, 2012

Two Philadelphia city councilmen are trying to crack down on the "underground economy" of developers and contractors who work without licenses and permits, pay cash under the table, and operate unsafe job sites.

Bobby Henon and James F. Kenney introduced a bill Thursday to beef up construction regulations, two days after Controller Alan Butkovitz released the results of an investigation that made the case for tighter work-site controls.

"We got a lot of complaints, mostly from union guys who had observed things they regarded as a complete lack of respect for any laws," Butkovitz said. "The angle they hit us with was, 'Look at all that revenue going out the window.' "

A 2007 controller's investigation determined that the city was losing between $2.1 million and $7.4 million in wage taxes, he said.

Kenney described developers around Temple University's campus who were putting on roofs with illegal labor in the middle of the night and moving student tenants into housing before fire-suppression systems were activated.

"Those are serious safety issues we need to deal with," he said. "And, on top of that, I want my tax money."

The bill comes on the heels of a high-profile showdown between union protesters and developers Michael and Matthew Pestronk, who are using a mix of union and nonunion labor to convert the Goldtex building at 12th and Wood Streets into apartments.

Kenney asked the city's Department of Licenses and Inspections to visit the Pestronk site this year because he had heard that workers were "being paid improperly" and that subcontractors were not properly licensed.

He said Thursday that the bill had nothing to do with the Pestronks, although he referred to them twice while describing the reasoning for the legislation.

"What we're trying to accomplish is to make sure everyone plays by the rules," Kenney said. "Somehow these developers and these contractors are being held up in some segments of the media as champions of changing the paradigm."

Michael Pestronk said he met with Kenney recently to try to work out their differences, but said he did not understand why the laws needed to be enhanced.

"We're probably the most compliant guys in the city as a result of all the attention we got from the unions and Kenney and others," he said. "To me, all the rules were on the books already."

Contact Troy Graham at 215-854-2730 or, or follow on Twitter @troyjgraham.

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