NYC Approves New Mobile Telecom Agreements, Enhancing Transparency Around Subcontractors

The Communications Workers of America worked with the NYC Department of Information Technology & Telecommunications to develop a new set of transparency requirements for the franchise agreements.

New York City, NY -- On Tuesday, the New York City Franchise and Concession Review Committee voted to approve increased subcontractor transparency requirements for new mobile telecommunications franchise agreements. The new requirements are the result of ongoing efforts by the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and the NYC Department of Information Technology & Telecommunications (DoITT) to ensure the city’s multi-layered contracting arrangements around 5G network deployment hold companies accountable and ensure safe conditions for workers and the public. 

For our city’s 5G rollout to succeed, we must be able to ensure accountability to protect New York’s residents, visitors, workers, and public infrastructure.,” said New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer. I am glad that worker safety and subcontractor transparency language has been included in the City’s mobile telecom franchise agreement.” 

“CWA’s research has uncovered numerous instances of telecom subcontractors causing fatal gas explosions and utility hits that negatively impact public infrastructure and resources and require public employee staff time to investigate and resolve,” said Robert Master, Assistant to the Vice President of the Communications Workers of America District 1. “These agreements will enhance transparency and accountability, and serve as part of the foundation of the City of New York’s telecommunications infrastructure for the next decade. We hope New York City’s leadership on this will be replicated by other municipalities and localities across the nation.” 

Across the United States, cities and local governments have worked with providers on build-out of 5G networks and enhancement of 4G networks. This work includes digging under sidewalks and roads to lay fiber, which requires coordination with gas, water and other utilities. Unfortunately, many providers build wireless networks using a web of out-of-state, subcontracted labor instead of locally-based direct employees, and often these subcontractors are non-union. 

Instances of costly utility disruptions related to these opaque, multi-layered subcontractor arrangements have occurred across the country. In January 2012, FGC Communications, which had been subcontracted by MasTec, which had been subcontracted by Verizon, struck a natural gas main while doing excavation work in preparation to install fiber optic cable conduit in West Haverstraw New York. As a result of the explosion, a townhouse was destroyed and four people– two firefighters and two gas utility employees –were seriously injured. In April 2019, a company subcontracted by Utilis, which had been subcontracted by Crown Castle,  hit a gas line in North Carolina and caused an explosion that killed two people, injured another twenty-five, destroyed a building including two businesses, and damaged nearby properties.

The National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (NATOA) - a professional association made up of individuals and organizations involved in the development of communications policies and services in local governments throughout the country - will be sharing the subcontractor transparency language as a model for their members across the United States. 

“NATOA supports the City of New York’s effort to ensure transparency about who is working in our public rights of way,” said NATOA General Counsel Nancy Werner. “The increasing demand to install facilities in our public spaces makes it more important than ever that local governments have the tools and information they need to protect public and worker safety as well as our local infrastructure.”

The new transparency requirements approved by the NYC Franchise and Concession Review  Committee mandate that companies subject to the franchise agreements must, on an annual basis, compile and transmit to DoITT a report describing the safety conditions regarding workers performing installation, maintenance, and other related work. Some of the information franchisees are required to report includes: 

  • A list of all companies, including subcontracted entities, employing the workers performing the relevant work;

  • The total number of workers disaggregated by job title performing relevant work, the number of workers with required certifications and licenses, along with a statement of whether each worker has the required experience and training; 

  • A description of safety training requirements and copies of policies and procedures related to safety standards;

  • Documentation evidencing that all companies subject to the franchise agreement are registered to do business in the State of New York and properly licensed for the work to be conducted; 

  • A description of any open investigations against companies subject to the franchise agreement for violations of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, the National Labor Relations Act, the Fair Labor Standards Act, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and New York Labor and Employment Laws within the last two years; 

The companies subject to the new agreements include Crown Castle; CSC Wireless d/b/a Altice Wireless USA LLC; ExteNet Systems; New Cingular Wireless PCS d/b/a/ AT&T Mobility; New York SMSA d/b/a Verizon Communications, Inc.; Transit Wireless; and ZenFi Networks. 

CWA’s involvement in the new transparency requirements for NYC small cell subcontractors is part of a broader national effort by the union to bolster accountability and improve worker and public safety as a growing number of cities and states look to build out 5G networks. 

In September, the union released recommendations for the deployment of small cell wireless infrastructure at the 2019 conference of the National Association of Telecommunications Advisors and Officers (NATOA), the nation’s largest gathering of local government telecommunications professionals. 

At the Federal level, CWA is supporting municipal resistance to policies that enable industry-driven efforts to avoid accountability to local authorities. Dozens of cities and counties across the country have sued the Trump administration in an effort to reverse a  Federal Communications Commission (FCC) order that dramatically weakens municipal authority to manage streets and public property. For both 4G and 5G deployment, companies need to place small cell equipment on public property, like light poles and sidewalks; the ruling establishes very low fee caps for permits and short timelines for approval, putting public safety and public budgets at risk. CWA, along with the National Digital Inclusion Alliance and Public Knowledge, filed an amicus brief in support of the local governments, arguing that the order is unlawful federal overreach that ties the hands of cities doing innovative work to close the digital divide.