New York, NY – “A Construction worker died here.”
Earlier this week, New Yorkers flocked to the beautiful al fresco dining along 9th Avenue’s cobblestone streets near the Chelsea Market, few if any, understanding that a 22-year-old non-union construction worker named Carlos Moncayo died six years ago, in a trench collapse steps away from their plates of fresh burrata and baby kale arugula salad.
“If a dozen police officers or a dozen firemen died every year, there would be investigations from here all the way downtown. But if it’s a construction worker —a Latino construction worker…people who look like me — who’s doing anything about it?” Rubén Colón, an Area Standards Dept. representative for the New York City District Council of Carpenters, told members of Moncayo’s family and supporters gathered together for Tuesday’s curbside memorial.
Two dozen construction workers were actually killed on the job in 2019, according NYCOSH’s newly-released Deadly Skyline report. Over the past decade, an average of 20 construction workers died every year — 215 construction workers in total. The highest number a fatalities in a single year happened in 2014, when 28 construction workers went to work in the morning and never returned home again.
And it is non-union Hispanic workers like Moncayo who suffer disproportionately throughout the Empire State.
Although Latinos comprise an estimated 10 percent of New York State’s workforce, they suffered 20.5 percent of worker fatalities in 2019.
Just last June, 32-year-old father of two Wilson Patricio Lopez Flores was killed when the forklift he was operating flipped over and crushed him on a construction site in Queens.
NYCOSH analyzed OSHA’s 19 construction fatalities investigations in 2019, and found that in New York City, nearly 70 percent of workers who died on private job sites were non-union. That figure rose to nearly 80 percent when NYCOSH looked at the 32 OSHA-investigated sites in New York State.
Although workers Amazon workers in Bessemer, Alabama failed to secure a union this time out, RWDSU President Stuart Appel this week, attributed the success and notoriety of the ongoing unionization drive to it being as much a “civil rights issue as a labor issue.”
Since Moncayo’s grisly death in 2015, the City of New York has responded with legislation meant to crack down on crooked developers and callous subcontractors exploiting vulnerable immigrant workers like Moncayo in pursuit of higher profit margins.
But six years after Moncayo’s avoidable death, worker advocates have little faith that there is enough enforcement being done.
Diana Florence — the former head of the Manhattan DA’s Construction Fraud Task Force who is enjoying strong support from the Building Trades in her bid to succeed her old boss Cy Vance — said, “Carlos’ life was disposable to the powerful people that he worked for” and “there is no accountability for people who abuse workers.”
NYCOSH blames OSHA’s “mostly stagnant budget” for a “staggering decrease in inspections over the past twenty years.” OSHA construction fines for fatality cases in 2019 averaged $32,719.
“Imagine, if someone had walked into that store where Carlos died and stole something that was worth $1,000. What kind of accountability would there have been? What if it had been $5,000? You can be that person would be going to jail,” Florence said.
Nationwide, 19 percent of all workers deaths can be attributed to the construction industry. Here in New York, however, construction fatalities account for more than 25 percent of all worker deaths in the city.
Joe Scopo, organizing director for the Laborers Union’s Cement and Concrete Workers District Council, vowed to “take these companies down and hold them accountable.”
“We are not gonna go through another six years of this crap,” Scopo said. “We’re gonna fight it now and we’re gonna fight it harder than ever. A construction worker died here — it’s a reality. We’re gonna empower the non-union worker to fight for their rights, and we’re gonna empower them to rise up against the greedy developers in this city who are destroying workers and killing the economy of New York City.”