Construction Workers To Council: Stop the Deaths

Marvin Tavárez, from Local 28, during the protest. Construction workers demonstrate at City Hall. (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario)

Construction workers in New York are not willing to see any more deaths in the city due to a lack of safety measures on the part of employers, or any more mistreatment and abuse toward undocumented workers or against people who are not part of a union. Over 30 deaths in two years are more than enough.

That was the clear message sent by hundreds of them on Tuesday outside the City Council, where a hearing was held to discuss 21 pieces of legislation that, if approved, would promote substantial changes in the industry and increase penalties for employers and developers who put the lives of their employees at risk.

“We need these laws to pass now because it is a matter of life and death,” said Marvin Tavárez, from the Dominican Republic and a member of the Local 28 workers union. He demonstrated despite the snow and the intense cold that enveloped the Big Apple. “The last four workers who died were not members of a union. That is why it is urgent to have consistency in the laws so that all workers can join a union that defends them, and can receive protection and training, as well as respect for their families should anything happen.”

The worker remembered the death of his colleague Lisandro Ramos, who fell off a Manhattan building late last year. Tavárez added that it is not fair that such painful stories continue to occur in New York.

“We helped Lisandro’s family, and it is very sad to see that they did not receive a penny from the employers because he had no protection. That has to stop. There is a great deal of abuse against construction workers who have no support,” he said. “If one of them dies, all [employers] do is go out in the street and find someone else to replace him the next day. They don’t care about [the workers’] lives.”

Juan Montalvo, from Peru, has worked in construction for 10 years. He thanked the council for beginning to understand that it is necessary to strengthen the laws protecting construction workers in order to prevent more fatalities, and asked for the approval of the Construction Safety Act.

“Sometimes they have us working in very dangerous conditions, without the necessary equipment, and out of need you risk your life, but the price to pay is very high,” said the worker, adding that the abuse committed by many construction companies is such that they pay whatever they want to those who are not unionized even though they receive $80 per worker per hour.

“With a union you receive around $40 per hour plus benefits, but they have paid me as little as $12 per hour because I have no papers, and I saw many pals who were screwed over,” he said.

The New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health said that the situation of the city’s construction workers is so dire that 101 employees lost their lives between 2011 and 2015, 25 of them in 2015.

“In the last two calendar years, a New York City family has mourned the death of a loved one every two or three weeks. The death of construction workers can be prevented,” stated the committee.

Council member Rafael Espinal, who attended the hearing, said that he fully supports the package of laws benefiting workers, and showed his support for unions.

“The fact that 464 construction workers died on the job in the past 10 years is unacceptable. Workers have been falling out of the sky at alarming rates and it is time we do something about it,” said Espinal. “We must take these steps to ensure adequate protections for NYC workers, who put their lives on the line to build the skyline.”

Similarly, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said that she understands that there will be differences of opinion regarding the legislative package, but pointed out that the priority is to protect lives.

“…There will be disagreements over what the city needs to do and what the city should do, but I think we can all agree that we’ve seen too many lives destroyed,” said the politician. “This has got to stop.”

The Puerto Rican-born leader added that it is also imperative to protect the rights of residents in the many areas where construction is being carried out across the city. “We cannot pay for that progress with the lives of the people who built this city, and we cannot pay for it with the lives of the people who reside and work near construction sites either. We must make constructions safer for all New Yorkers,” she said.

Edwin Agredo, from Colombia, who has worked in construction for 12 years, said that the best part about the new laws is that, if approved, they will bring equality for all.

“Every worker needs to have the same rights and be protected equally so [employers] can’t go on taking advantage of those who have no papers or aren’t in a union.”

Meanwhile, Jordan Barcacel, from the Dominican Republic, summarized the spirit of the legislative initiatives in one phrase: “Protection, protection, protection. That’s all we’re asking for.”

Construction worker deaths in New York City

  • 435 deaths in the last 10 years
  • 101 deaths between 2011 and 2015
  • 47 deaths in 2014-2015
  • 90 percent of these accidents occurred to workers who were not part of a union
  • 21 laws are included in the Construction Safety Act, which is currently under council review
  • 57 percent and more of all workers who perished in a fall in New York State were Latino
  • 59 percent of the fatalities in the Big Apple between 2011 and 2015 were due to falls, the most common cause of death among construction workers

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