New York, NY – The chilling bagpipe wail of “Amazing Grace” mixed with the cacophonous sounds of ongoing construction at Varick and Broome streets on Tuesday afternoon — site of a deadly crane accident that claimed the life of 34-year-old war veteran Gregory “Mo” Echevarria just three days prior.
The Brooklyn father of four survived fighting in both Iraq and Afghanistan before being killed on the job during the early morning hours of April 13, when a massive counterweight came loose and struck him.
“Mo” Echevarria was the third construction worker killed on a non-union job site during a span of six-days last week. Erik Mendoza, 23, and Nelson Salinas, 51, also died performing construction work on separate job sites in Brooklyn and Manhattan.
“It kills us that [Gregory] came home to New York after serving in a war to die on the streets of New York City,” Echevarria’s cousin Melissa Ortiz Delvalle told a group of trade unionists who gathered at the intersection of Broome and Varick streets on Tuesday to memorialize all three men. “His wife and his children are going to be mourning for generations because they’ll never know the impact he could have had on his family.”
Despite his extensive service in the U.S. military, friends and family have told LaborPress that Gregory was desperate to find work upon returning home.
“I know he had a hard time finding work when he came back from the military and just getting back on his feet,” Ortiz Delvalle said. “He just had a [new] baby.”
This week’s memorial service held directly adjacent to the entrance to the Holland Tunnel, drew support from the NYC District Council of Carpenters’ Latino Club.
“When you’re there in the service, everyone is your brother or sister — it’s the same in construction,” said Cecilia Baez Raymond, Latino Club correspondence secretary and U.S. military veteran. “We’re brothers and sisters. We support each other.”
Cranes Express, Inc., operator of the machinery involved in Echevarria’s death on Saturday, has a history of worker fatalities.
Those outraged as New York City construction continue to die on the job, are increasingly fed up with temporary stop work orders, paltry fines and tootles legislative measures that fail to protect anybody.
“People are getting injured on non-union jobs and somebody has be held accountable,” NYC District Council of Carpenters’ Latino Club VP James Mercado said. “This is an ongoing thing. This is happening all around the city. I think it was faulty equipment. I think the people running the facility are not doing a good job.”
Ortiz Delvalle, herself a veteran, attributed the continuing fatalities occurring on mostly non-union construction sites to the exploitation of immigrant communities of color.
“In our immigrant communities here in New York City, there’re too many deaths,” she said. “There are too many immigrants that are being pulled off the street because they have no license, no training no service, no experience here in New York City. They don’t know what it’s like to work on these kinds of sites. We need to make sure that these workers — [and] everybody — gets training. There cannot be one more death — there cannot be another Mo.”
Said, Mercado, “You got unqualified men working machinery they’re not qualified to run, and that’s why things like this happen.”
Working on the World Trade Center site, Baez Raymond said, “We have safety people walking around all the time, every day, looking at everything we’re doing.”
“We all have to be certified, we need training,” she said. “When you’re using a crane operating company that is basically strictly non-union, it’s not the first time something horrible has happened with this company. It’s really got to get looked into.”
The rash of construction worker deaths occurring in 2017, prompted the passage of Local Law 196, which seeks to require all construction workers undergo 100 hours of safety training. That measure, however, has yet to be fully implemented.
Although strongly supportive of much stiffer fines and penalties for irresponsible developers and contractors with blood on their hands — Ortiz Delvalle said there isn’t a fine big enough to offset the loss of someone’s life or the trauma inflicted on the loved ones they leave behind.
“How is it affecting the kids?” she said. “How is that affecting them and how they relate to their families? These kinds of things are not just about money that gets put on the table. It’s about restitution — emotion restitution. You can’t replace a parent and the impact they could have had on their families.”
Sometimes, builders are disbarred and restricted from doing business in the city — but the sanctions are never long lasting. Companies hit with harsh enough penalties, have also been known to simply morph into different entities which allow them to resume business once again.
“I know that we have to build our city — but developers who have death on their sites — I think there’s a different kind of impact you have to have on them,” Ortiz Delvalle said. “It’s not just about the money on the table. It’s how do you impact them in the long run? Are the penalties enough so that they can really make a conscious effort to make sure that worker safety is the first thing that needs to happen?”