October 9, 2014
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – A female ironworker from the Bronx who says senior managers groped and sexually harassed her in a variety of other outrageous ways, walked off the job in protest on Tuesday.
LaFondra Brown, 34, officially submitted a detailed complaint to her bosses, and walked off a construction site at East 214 Street and White Plains Road at around 12:15 p.m. on October 7, to the applause of supportive workers from the New York State Iron Workers District Council gathered across the street.
“I get all kinds of crap from the senior supervisors,” the mother of two told LaborPress. “One of them grabbed my ass and I almost fell off the scaffold.”
Another manager allegedly exposed his penis to Brown after several attempts to touch and fondle her – while another supervisor reportedly told the veteran ironworker that because she is an African-American woman, she is "lucky" to have a job at all.
“I get all kinds of stuff,” Brown said. “You name it, I get it. But after [tolerating it] for so long, you can’t take it anymore.”
For over a decade, Brown has worked as a flagger, signal person and fireguard for Knickerbocker Construction, which regularly subcontracts with Urban Erectors and its affiliate U.S. Crane & Rigging.
During that time, Brown says she was not provided proper safety equipment, and twice injured her eyes operating welding equipment she was not certified to operate. She was also left to pay for the ensuing medical treatment out her own pocket.
“I’m not even a licensed welder, and they [supervisors] have me welding just to get their job done,” Brown said. “But if they want it done, you’ve got to do it. At the end of the day, I have to feed my kids and pay my bills.”
U.S. Crane & Rigging is part of the problem-plagued Auringer family of companies, which also includes NY Hoist, Urban Pre-Cast and others. Over the past 10 years, Auringer companies have been cited with over $300,000 in initial OSHA [Occupational Safety & Health Administration] fines.
A class action lawsuit against Auringer-ownned construction companies alleges the businesses withheld wages and failed to pay employees overtime. Hearings are set for next week.
Back in May, Ironworkers Ithier Lopez, 26, and Carol Turner, 51, walked off another Auringer-related construction site in the Bronx, citing unchecked worker abuse. Both men have worked alongside Brown many times in the past, and each said they are not at all surprised by allegations of sexual harassment.
“She does get harassed,” Lopez said.
According to Brown, she is often times the only woman working on a non-union Auringer-related contraction site.
“The company recently hired another woman as a flagger two months ago,” Brown said. “But She’s getting it, too. I told her, you better keep your eyes and your ears open. Don’t do anything that’s going to risk your life or get you hurt.”
Brown said that she reported incidents of sexual abuse to the company’s owner, but that no action has been taken.
As yet, the company has also not responed to LaborPress' requests for comment.
With union support, Lopez, Turner and Brown say they are committed to striking against Auringer-related companeis until their grievances are addressed.
“I want to see workers getting the right accommodations that they’re supposed to have,” Brown said. “We deserve it. A lot of us put our lives on the line every day doing this work – and we get nothing in return for it.”
The striking non-union workers say that the managers they have long worked for, now look upon them as “traitors.”
“I believe that we can make this company better,” Lopez said. “They feel that we did something bad to them [by walking out], when in reality, they have been lashing us for years. We’ve been loyal to them – but we haven’t seen any loyalty from them.”