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Workers’ Memorial Day: ‘Remember the Dead and Protect Everybody’

NEW YORK, N.Y.— Francisco Villalba, 29, deliverista. Aidan Shaw, 37, Con Ed gas inspector. Fire Lieutenant Joseph Maiello, 53. Salah Uddin Bablu, 51, deliverista. Police Officer Jason Rivera, 22.

Those were some of the names intoned Apr. 28 at the Workers’ Memorial Day commemoration on Broadway near City Hall, with a red or white carnation placed on a box for each one. New York City Central Labor Council chief of staff Brendan Griffith invoked Mother Jones: “Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.”

Council Member Carmen De La Rosa outside City Hall on Workers Memorial Day.

The NYCCLC and the New York Committee on Occupational Safety and Health, which organized the event, say at least 46 workers in the city died on the job in the past year. Fifteen of those were construction workers; 12 were deliveristas, working for app-based delivery services; and 13 were murdered. 

More are unknown. “We don’t have the name of every worker who lost their lives,” NYCOSH director Charlene Obernauer told the crowd of more than 100 people. She said it was “scary” to research deaths and “not even be able to find their names.”

There is no primary or official list of on-the-job deaths, the CLC and NYCOSH said in a statement. They compiled their list of 46 deaths from media reports, information from their affiliates and community organizations, and word of mouth. 

City Councilmember Carmen De La Rosa (D-Manhattan) said she plans to introduce legislation to change that. Her bill would “mirror” and expand the 2020 state law for reporting deaths on construction jobs that she sponsored when she was in the Assembly, she told LaborPress. It would require all employers to report any fatal injury within 72 hours, and use that information to create a registry of on-the-job deaths. That, she said, would facilitate investigations of those deaths, and could be used to identify problem employers.

The point of the commemoration, she told the crowd, was not just reflecting on the people’s names, “but to recognize the conditions that cause their deaths, and act for change.”

 State Senate Labor Committee chair Jessica Ramos (D-Queens) blamed “the race to the bottom from so many employers.”

“I work in rage… because so many employers see workers as disposable,” she said. “It’s my responsibility to find every gap and every loophole that allows bad bosses to cut corners on worker safety.”

If wage theft is a problem on a job, she added, that’s also usually “a clear indicator” of dangerous conditions.

Bagpipers march out of St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Thursday, April 28.

In construction, most fatal accidents are on nonunion jobs. In 2020, a year where the amount of work was shrunk by the COVID pandemic, 23 of the 29 fatal accidents in New York State that were investigated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration were on nonunion sites, according to NYCOSH’s annual “Deadly Skyline” report, released in February. The death rate for Latino workers was almost twice the overall rate; many nonunion construction workers are immigrants.

Most of the 14 deliveristas who died in the past year-plus were killed in collisions with cars and trucks, Los Deliveristas Unidos/Workers’ Justice Project spokesperson Hildalyn Colón Hernandez told LaborPress, but two were murdered by robbers trying to steal the expensive electric bicycles they use on the job. They were Francisco Villalba, a Mexican immigrant who was fatally shot in East Harlem in March 2021, and Salah Uddin Bablu, a father of two from Bangladesh who was stabbed to death on the Lower East Side in October. Both had stopped to rest and eat after finishing a long shift, Colón Hernandez said.

Nationwide, violence accounted for slightly more than one-seventh of the 4,764 workers who died from traumatic injuries on the job in 2020, according to the AFL-CIO’s annual “Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect” report, released Apr. 26. Another 120,000 people died from occupational diseases, it said — bringing the death toll from hazardous working conditions to 340 workers every day.

“This number does not include the many thousands who died from being exposed to COVID-19 at work,” the report added.

“Keep them in your memories, and let’s do whatever we can to protect everybody, union or nonunion,” Ironworkers Local 40 President Dan Doyle told the crowd.

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