June 10, 2016
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – This week, the New York Building Congress estimated that construction generated a whopping $61 billion of economic activity in 2015 – but immigrant and labor rights advocates are convinced the cash is coming at the expense of workers’ lives.
“Absolutely, there’s no reason why workers should be dying,” NYCOSH Associate Director Nadia Marin-Molina told LaborPress on Thursday. “All of these accidents are preventable — but the reason that companies are not preventing them is because they want to get the job done faster and they want to make more money — and that is entirely the reason why these deaths are happening.”
NYCOSH joined with eight other immigrant rights activists and labor groups outside New York County Courthouse on June 9, where final arguments were being presented in the case involving Harco Construction and the 2015 death of 22-year-old construction worker Carlos Moncayo.
As many as 17 workers died on mostly non-union construction sites in New York City last year. Moncayo was killed on a Manhattan jobsite in April, after a trench he was working in collapsed. Prosecutors allege that a pair of site managers ignored repeated warnings about serious dangers to workers.
“For far too long criminally negligent and reckless contractors have been merely slapped on the wrist with no real consequences,” Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York President Gary LaBarbera said in a statement. “The Harco Construction trial has the opportunity to change all of that. Irresponsible contractors should be put on notice that they can no longer put profits ahead of the safety of workers and that they will be held liable for their actions.”
Monica Velazquez, daughter of a construction worker named Delfino Velazquez who was killed in a roof collapse on Staten Island two years ago, also pressed for criminal charges against Harco Construction and called on other companies to provide greater safety and health training.
“My heart is broken in half,” Velazquez said. “I feel the pain [the Moncayo family] is going through. We need to come together to stop the killing of workers and to demand companies provide safety and health training.”
So far this year, an additional five more construction workers have died on job sites all around New York — they inlcude Konstantinos Potamousis, 62; Alex Santizo, 21; Igor Bergun, 54; Luis Mata 32 and Vitor Nobre, 55.
Dennis Lee of LiUNA Local 79 said that construction workers in New York are fed up with bad contractors.
“Unscrupulous contractors have been put on notice that their actions will not be tolerated,” Lee said. “We as construction workers are appalled by their actions.”
Nevertheless, as New York’s latest building boom continues, NYCOSH finds that worker safety is being left behind.
“We know for a fact that there is not enough safety training going on for workers on construction sites,” Marin-Molina said. “And we also know for a fact that it’s the responsibility of contractors or of the employers of the workers not just to train workers, but also to ensure that the site is safe and that everything that happens on that construction site is safe. It’s not enough to say a worker needs to get trained. The companies have to ensure that the workers are protected because as this case showed — even in the case where a contractor knows there are imminent dangers of a worker being killed on that site — they don’t care.”
A ruling in the Harco Construction case is expected to come as early as Friday. Regardless of the outcome, Marin-Molina said that many more construction companies must be prosecuted for endangering workers.
“This can’t be the only case,” she said. “Only enforcement is going to make these contractors realize that they can’t place their own profits over workers’ lives.”
The Department of Buildings says that its investigative attorneys have been focusing on enhanced disciplinary action for repeat bad actors, and that over the past year-and-a-half have been able to win nearly 60 cases resulting in probation, suspensions and full revocation of privileges.
Harco's license was briefly suspended in the wake of Moncayo's horrific death.
Over the past fiscal year, the agency also acquired enough funding to hire 100 more inspectors. In February, the DOB announced that by next month, construction superintendents will be required to conduct daily inspections of major jobsites under 10 stories. Fines for worksite accidents resulting from a failure to safeguard will now also cost bad contractors $10,000 instead of $2,400. The DOB said it also conducted 1,500 "sweeps" of "high risk job sites."