Construction Workers Protest Unsafe Working Conditions

Construction workers march in Lower Manhattan. (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario)

Construction workers march in Lower Manhattan (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario)

For the second time this month, hundreds of construction workers, union leaders and allies stood in front of 1 Wall St. to raise awareness of the labor injustices they face. “Unions, unions, unions,” chanted the participants, as people across the street took pictures and listened to their complaints.

“We are here to defend not just union members but all workers,” said Santos Rodríguez, director of Community Affairs and Strategic Initiatives for the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York.

Between 2009 and 2015, construction in New York increased 300 percent. The need for more workers has made construction sites less secure due to poor training and carelessness. Last year, 19 people died in construction accidents, four more than in 2014. According to Rodríguez, 15 of last year’s victims did not belong to a union.

Rodríguez mentioned one of them, Carlos Moncayo, who perished after being crushed on the job despite several warnings to the construction company that their worksite was unsafe. The victim’s family and the Manhattan district attorney have filed a case against the company. The case, still pending, will become a precedent for accidents of this sort, as it is the first time that foremen will face criminal charges for the death of a worker.

“They are largely abusing us Latinos simply because many of the workers are immigrants and don’t know their rights,” added Rodríguez.

After the demonstration on Wall Street, the protesters marched to 88 Pine St., where the Gilbane Building Company’s New York offices are located. The enterprise has been named as an example of companies who hire contractors for less than standard industry wages and fail to train their workers as mandated by the law. Worse still, some of the contractors have a record of not paying workers and of unsafe working conditions.

Nonunion construction worker Christian Mejía, who has been on strike since September, was at the demonstration. The Honduras-born and New York-raised Mejía worked with U.S. Crane and Rigging, a company subcontracted by Gilbane, building cranes. He said that the low wages, long hours and lack of training made him go on strike.

“We are all human beings and deserve opportunities in life. Regardless of your color, where you come from or who you are, things need to be done the right way,” said Mejía. U.S. Crane and Rigging declined to comment on his complaints.

A spokesperson for Gilbane responded to the march saying: “Our culture of safety is at the heart of every project we start, and we are proud of our successful job preventing injuries on worksites.” The representative added that Gilbane has never recorded a fatality at one of their New York construction sites. “We work tirelessly with our associates in the industry and competitors to go beyond the requirements,” said the spokesperson.

If you or anyone you know is working under unsafe conditions, you may file a complaint with the city by calling 311, or at the regional Occupational Safety and Health Administration at (212) 337-2378.

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