February 25, 2014
By Steven Wishnia
Chanting their readiness to fight for safe jobs “Monday! Tuesday! Every day!” about 150 union construction and building workers demonstrated at the Stella Tower luxury-condo construction site in Manhattan Feb. 24, three days after a worker on the nonunion job broke his leg falling off a scaffold.
“He had no safety equipment,” said Jessica Ramos of Build Up NYC, the coalition of the NYC Building Trades Council, Local 32BJ SEIU, and the Hotel Trades Council. Build Up NYC organized the protest. The developer’s construction arm, JDS Construction, did not report the accident to the Department of Buildings, she added—“we did.”
JDS Development purchased the Art Deco-design building at 425-435 West 50th St., formerly a telephone-equipment facility, in 2010 for $20 million. Backed by the Starwood Capital Group private-equity fund, they’re converting it into 52 condominiums. One-bedroom apartments start at $1.5 million, and the most expensive are expected to sell for more than $9 million.
The accident underscores the need for the kind of safety procedures enforced on union jobs, protesters said. “I got scaffold training. I got fire training,” Ray Martinez of the International Union of Elevator Constructors Local 1 told the crowd, holding up a wallet he said was stuffed with certificates.
“It shows that in the nonunion sector, people get hurt,” said Dan Walcott, political director of the District Council of Carpenters. “We’re here to blow the whistle.”
“We want the workers on the job to know there’s other people out there thinking about their safety,” said Vivian Morgan, a member of Laborers Local 79. “We want them to know the contractor’s taking advantage of them.”
Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations, said Tony Straka of the New York Committee for Occupational Safety & Health, require either a guardrail or a protective harness if anyone is working where they can fall more than 10 feet. The harness has to be anchored to the structure, not the scaffold, and must be able to hold 5,000 pounds. Pointing up at the scaffold outside the 19-story building, he said it appeared to be adequately connected to the wall, but that the planking laid down for workers to walk on was not wide enough.
The state’s scaffolding law, added Susan McQuade of NYCOSH, “holds employers not only responsible, but liable” if workers are injured in falls on jobs with inadequate safety measures.
Most nonunion employers “don’t provide the right equipment or training,” said Ligia Guallpa of the Workers Justice Project, a Brooklyn “worker center” that serves mainly immigrant construction workers. According to OSHA, almost two-thirds of the fatal construction accidents in New York City from 2008 to 2012 happened on nonunion sites. According to a 2013 report by the Center for Popular Democracy, 74 percent of construction workers killed in falls in the city
from 2003 to 2011 were either Latinos or immigrants, six-sevenths of them working for nonunion employers.
In the Stella Tower doorway, three men stood in guard-like poses, all saying they were not affiliated with JDS Development and knew nothing about the accident. JDS Development did not return a phone call from LaborPress.