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Officials Probe Death of 32BJ Window Cleaner; Bad Developers Must Lose Licenses, NICE Says

Members of NICE — New Immigrant Community Empowerment — hold a candlelight vigil for 32BJ SEIU member Diego Rodriguez Celi who was killed on the job in Brooklyn on Dec. 10.

Brooklyn, NY – Investigations continue this week into the Dec. 10 falling death of window cleaner and 32BJ SEIU member Diego Rodriguez Celi. The 34 year-old emigre was the third 32BJ member to die on the job washing windows since 2017.

Rodriguez Celi, along with an uncle, were among a total of four 32BJ window cleaners who were working at the 85 Jay Street building in Brooklyn where the fatal incident took place. 

“Our thoughts are with Diego’s family during this difficult time,” 32BJ Executive Vice-President Shirley Aldebol told LaborPress in an email. “We are waiting for OSHA to conclude its investigation into this tragic incident before we determine any next steps. We will continue to advocate for increased safety and training standards at work sites for window cleaners and other workers and will continue to take all steps necessary to protect our members on the job.”

The New York City Department of Buildings investigated the site following the early morning incident in which Rodriguez Celi reportedly fell from the 12th floor of the 21-story condo being constructed at the intersection of York and Jay streets.

According to the DOB, investigators uncovered violations not related to the deadly fall itself, but that did involve failures to safeguard the construction site. A stop work order was issued and remains in effect at the time of this writing. 

Diego Rodriguez Celi was reportedly just 34 years-old when he died on the job.

The massive “open shop” development at 85 Jay Street has been a source of union consternation going back to at least 2019, when members of New York City’s unionized Building Trades began protesting against the CIM Group and their decision to employ general contractors and subcontractors notorious for exploiting nonunion labor. 

Four days following Rodriguez Celi’s death, members of NICE — New Immigrant Community Empowerment — held a solemn candlelight vigil for him just across the street from the spot where his life ended on the job. 

Estefania Galvis, Workers Developer director at NICE, told LaborPress that multi-billion-dollar developers are not being held accountable for the deaths they are causing throughout New York City.

“These are not accidents,” Galvis said. “All these deaths are preventable. Fines do not work. We need the state and the city to take steps towards taking away licenses from people that have deaths on their worksites. The majority of times, those deaths are immigrant workers. As we’ve seen on the national and local levels — immigrants seem to be indispensable and disposable at the same time.”

Each year, the New York Committee for Occupational Safety & Health [NYCOSH] issues a survey of construction worker injuries and fatalities. The latest edition of NYCOSH’s “Deadly Skyline” report finds nonunion construction sites throughout New York are especially dangerous for Latino emigres. Rodriguez Celi, according to his social media account, was originally from Macara, a city in Ecuador’s Loja Provence.

“Nonunion job sites remained dangerous for workers, and construction remained especially dangerous for Latinos,” the report’s authors write. “This finding is consistent with prior years and is particularly relevant due to the relationship between unsafe jobs and immigration status.” 

Simply put, the NYCOSH report says, “If workers believe immigration authorities may be alerted when reporting unsafe jobs, they are less likely to make a report. Fear of retribution makes job sites less safe for everyone, but particularly Latino construction workers.” 

Local 78 trade unionist Israel Rodriguez says he often felt unsafe working nonunion.

Yolanda Agudelo is a former construction worker who left the industry to become a cleaner. Her husband, however, continues to work in the nonunion construction sector. He was actually on the job at 85 Jay Street the morning Rodriguez Celi fell to his death. The couple, like many other nonunion construction workers at the site, are originally from Columbia.

“[My husband] and his co-workers where told to pick up their tools and go home because someone had fallen off the 12th floor — he felt that it could have been him or any one of them who could have fallen,” Agudelo said. 

Agudelo told LaborPress that many nonunion construction workers at 85 Jay Street often feel unsafe on the job due to inadequate training and a lack of safety equipment. She said it’s “horrible” to think her husband must continue to work at 85 Jay Street.

“It’s not only coming to work at this one building, but going to work at all these places that immigrants are called in to work in the city that are mostly high-risk jobs,” Agudelo added. “There is [always] a high risk of accidents and the possibility of death.”

LiUNA Local 78 member Israel Rodriguez is a 32-year-old DACA recipient living in Woodhaven, Queens who worked nonunion for about a year before joining New York City’s unionized Building Trades. 

“When you work nonunion your employers don’t care about you,” he told LaborPress. “They try to squeeze the life out of you. Sometimes, you have to chase them down just to get paid. You have to go out of your way to chase down what’s yours.”

The Local 78 member said there were many times when he, too, felt unsafe on the job working nonunion.

“Oh, Yeah. Many times,” he said. “‘[The bosses] wouldn’t care if you wore a hardhat or not. Just simple things — they wouldn’t take safety precautions. It’s unfortunate that this is going on in New York City. We have to do something about it.”

 

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