June 12, 2016
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – Workers’ rights groups and safety advocates are hailing this week’s ruling against general contractor Harco Construction as a “historic conviction” that could potentially help make the entire building industry in New York City safer.
Last year, 22-year-old Ecuadorian emigre Carlos Moncayo was killed on a Manhattan construction site after the trench he was working in collapsed and buried him alive.
On Friday, a State Supreme Court Judge in Manhattan found Harco Construction guilty of manslaughter, as well as charges of criminally negligent homicide and reckless endangerment.
“This is a[n] historic conviction which we hope will save the lives of workers – as it puts general contractors and sub-contractors on notice that it is a new day in New York City and we will not tolerate reckless profit that endangers and kills workers,” NYCOSH Associate Director Nadia Marin-Molina said in a statement. “We also hope news of this Harco Construction conviction will reach more workers and increase awareness about workers’ rights when faced with unsafe workplaces, of which non-union workplaces are the most dangerous.”
Sentencing in the case is expected on July 13. Two other site mangers involved in the Moncayo death are also awaiting trial.
As many as 17 construction workers in New York — most of them non-union — died on the job in 2015. Another five have also died so far this year.
All of this is happening as New York’s construction industry finds itself in the midst of a more than $60 billion building boom – one that organized labor and other workers’ rights groups see as costing the lives of insufficiently trained and poorly protected workers.
"The lives of construction workers, like Carlos Moncayo, who are building New York every day, should never be sacrificed for the sake of ever higher profits,” NYCOSH Executive Director Charlene Obernauer said prior to Friday’s ruling.
In addition to the Harco case, Brooklyn D.A. Ken Thompson recently announced that his office is bringing manslaughter charges against Salvatore Schirripa in the Brooklyn worksite death of 50-year-old construction worker Vidal Sanchez Ramon last spring. Schirripa’s companies J&M Metro General Contracting Corp. and Metrotech Development Corp. are also being charged in an eight-count indictment for failing to comply with city regulations.
Before the Harco Construction ruling, safety advocates also called on the city to do a better job of enforcing existing regulations designed to safeguard workers.
The de Blasio administration says that it has already taken steps to beef up enforcement. Over the past fiscal year, the Department of Buildings secured enough funding to hire 100 additional inspectors — but it is unclear just how many are actively working in the field or still being trained at the DOB’s Buildings University. The agency is now budgeted for 524 inspectors.
In an email to LaborPress, a DOB spokesperson said that with $120 million in new funding, the mayor has made an “unprecedented investment” in the Department of Buildings.
“The Department will use a portion of these resources to hire additional inspectors and modernize our technological infrastructure to more efficiently identify higher risk construction sites,” the statement continues. “We brought on board 100 inspectors over the last year, and will to continue hiring in coming year. These changes will further enhance our enforcement capabilities.”
In addition to enforcing current regulations, organized labor groups and other workers’ rights activists are also seeking new laws to increase training and safety.
Legislation to require approved training on construction sites over 10 stories tall, for instance, is already at the City Council.
At LaborPress’ Labor Leadership Awards held the NYC District Council of Carpenters building on June 1, Gary LaBarbera, head of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, declared, “Anyone who does not support construction safety does not deserve to be in office.”
This week, Gonzalo Mercado of La Colmena — the Staten Island Community Jobs Center — also called for tougher legislation regulating New York’s booming construction industry.
“We cannot allow one more preventable death and this trial should send a clear message to all unscrupulous employers to stop cutting corners and protect the lives of their workers,” Mercado said in a statement. “We also look forward to work with lawmakers to strengthen and create legislation to enhance worker protections on health and safety.”