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New York City Calls Off Construction, But Pritzker Says That’s Unlikely In Illinois

“We can shelter in place for awhile but we need to know when this ends," a Chicago subcontractor said.

Sonny Jaramilla (left), the construction manager for the Wells-Wentworth Connector project, oversees the construction of a sewer junction chamber at "The 78" construction site. It will connect with an outlet of the Deep Tunnel. Photo taken on March 13, 2020.
John Owens/Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — Following outcry from workers, Gov. Andrew Cuomo nixed most residential and commercial building projects in New York City — but that’s unlikely to happen in Illinois, officials say.

At the moment, construction projects in Illinois are considered “essential business” during the state’s stay-at-home order. Gov. JB Pritzker said Sunday that’s unlikely to change.

He did say that it’s up to construction companies to maintain social distancing among workers. If they don’t, he said, that’s a concern.

“Anybody that is concerned about that certainly should be reporting to the Department of Public Health or letting my administration know,” he said. “Much of what is being done is essential work … and we don’t want anybody to be at risk, but we also want to make sure we’re continuing the necessary work across the state.”

Cuomo’s decision to ban non-essential construction followed protest from construction workers and their family members and an electrician’s death, The City reported.

Work on infrastructure, hospitals and affordable housing is still allowed, Curbed reported.

Mimi Simon, a spokeswoman for the Chicago Department of Buildings, said construction companies should continue to abide by the city’s COVID-19 guidelines.

Ald. Daniel La Spata (1st) said on Friday he trusts the city’s Department of Buildings and Department of Transportation to ensure worker safety at construction sites.

“I am not opposed to it continuing with proper practices in place,” he said.

If Chicago were to ban construction, the financial strain would be greatly felt among subcontractors, Encompass Audio Visual president Tim Pickett said during a virtual panel last week.

Based in Elk Grove Village, Encompass AV does a lot of work with Chicago’s service and hospitality industries; retrofitting buildings, making tech-friendly event venues, mounting televisions and other projects.

Because of the pandemic, Pickett said, his company has already lost 70 percent of its business.

Subcontractors typically pay for their materials up front and receive payment 60-90 days after a project is completed, he said.

Pickett said he understood the necessity of the stay-at-home order and that he was concerned for the health and safety of his staff and his clients.

If job sites shut down today, however, subcontractors will likely burn through the money they have within a couple months then, when allowed to resume work, struggle to pay for materials, Pickett said.

“Cash flow is our No. 1 concern,” he said. “Maintaining employee security, making sure they feel secure and have jobs. … These are some of the challenges we’re facing.”

Pickett said he hopes to see more clarity from Pritzker regarding when, realistically, the stay-at-home order will end.

“Subcontractors live on draws from bank,” he said. “The subcontractors are the end of the food chain unfortunately in terms of getting paid.”

Block Club Chicago’s coronavirus coverage is free for all readers. Block Club is an independent, 501(c)(3), journalist-run newsroom.

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