On Thursday, July 16, a man was killed when a scaffolding collapsed at a non-union job at an 11-story apartment building in the Murray Hill section of New York City. Four men were working at the residential co-op building at 136 E. 36th Street. Aside from the one death, three other men were injured but in stable condition. However, this is not a new problem. Tragedies like this occur more often when crews are not properly trained and/or educated with the appropriate safety plans.
It has been said that some contractors and property owners choose to go with non-union labor to save money. But at what cost? At what risk? The difference between organized labor and unorganized labor is apparently clear, which is not to say that accidents do not happen on unionized worksites; however, safety is a top concern at unionized sites. This comes from proper training and the understanding of working equipment. There is a call for stronger protection for construction workers but who will pay this price?
Whether the price of using the appropriate materials and safety equipment is paid for by the contractor and billed to the client or if the client chooses a less expensive option at the expense to worker and community safety, someone will pay. “Management is always going to look to save money,” said a Local 79 laborer. “Most of the people making the decisions like this have never been on a construction site before,” mentioned the laborer. “So they look to save some money but in the end, these people don’t get it, plus, they don’t believe accidents like this will happen at one of their jobs. Until it does happen, and then what? ”
“Who pays now,” asked the laborer. “I’ll tell you who pays, four guys that went to work on a Thursday. One died and the other three went to the hospital. That’s who pays.”
The DOB issued a partial stop work order for all facade work at the building and has filed a summons against the permit holder, Edras Group Corp., citing, “Failure to institute adequate safety measures during construction operations.”
“That’s great,” said the Local 79 laborer. “But what does that do for the family of a 59 year-old man that died as a result of someone’s negligence?” The Edras Group refused to comment on the matter. When informed that the Edras Group declined to comment on the tragedy, the union laborer folded his eyebrows downward and curled his lips. “Of course, they did,” said the laborer. “I wonder how many more people need to get hurt before people get it.”
Due to Local Law 11, scaffolding work is common in New York City. This law mandates that building owners must have a professional inspect the facade every five years to keep loose debris from falling from the facade and injuring or killing bypassers below. According to the Facade Inspection and Safety Program, all work must be directed by a Qualified Exterior Wall Inspector. This means scaffolding will be put in place by a “Professional.” However, when projects are placed out for the bid, how are the standards of professionalism guaranteed when the project is awarded to the lowest bidder?
When reached for comment on this matter, Local 79 Business Manager, Mike Prohaska commented, “It’s terrible that it takes a tragedy like this to show the importance of proper training in such a dangerous industry. While it is great that NYC mandates exterior restoration through Local Law 11, the City should also include state certified apprenticeship requirements for any contractor performing work.”
According to officials, the Edras Group has been cited 43 times for safety violations in the past 10 years. With 1 dead and 3 injured, fortunately, no one else was hurt.
Ben Kimmel is a proud member of the IUOE Local 94, as well as a Mental Health First Aid Instructor, Certified Recovery Coach, Certified Professional Life Coach, and Peer & Wellness Advocate. Ben can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org