June 16, 2016
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – After nearly three years of putting up buildings in New York City for fast-food wages and in dangerous working conditions, US Crane & Rigging worker Edgar Johsua Melendez walked off a West 57th Street job site early Thursday morning and into the embrace of supportive union members.
“This is a big step for me — but it’s a better step with a brighter future,” the Bronx father of three said in front of residential project going up at 111 West 57th Street. “There’s no light at the end of the tunnel with US Crane & Rigging.”
Over the past two years, the New York State District Council of Ironworkers has methodically worked to organize frustrated ironworkers working for the Auringer family of construction of companies — one of the city’s most prolific contractors — which also includes US Crane & Rigging.
The number of non-union workers who have decided to join the Ironworkers after reporting a litany abuses while working for Auringer companies now stands at 35, according to lead Ironworker organizer Eddie Jorge.
“There’s a lot more workers that we’ve been meeting with,” Jorge said on Thursday. “We’re trying to send a message that they’re not alone — the Building Trades are with them, they have the Ironworkers supporting them and the community is out here, too.”
Over the course of his nearly three years with US Crane & Rigging, Melendez says he witnessed numerous safety violations and examples of dangerously trained workers.
“I’ve seen other guys get hurt,” Melendez told LaborPress. “I’ve seen cranes tip over and welding machines blow up in our main yard in the Bronx.”
More than 20 New York construction workers have died on the job over the last 18 months — most of them on non-union job sites where training can be described as haphazard at best.
“You’re out there with people who don’t know safety,” Melendez said. “I was learning as I was going, which is unsafe. And I was put on job sites with other people that didn’t know anything about ironworking. I’ve been [many] feet up in the air putting in catwalks with guys that were scared — they were shaking. They didn’t know how to put a harness on.”
According to NYCOSH — New York Committee for Occupational Safety & Health — almost 80 percent of all construction worker deaths in New York occur on non-union job sites.
In addition to the danger, Melendez says he’s been misclassified and had his wages stolen while working for US Crane & Rigging. When he was hired about three years ago as a welder, Melendez was paid just $12 an hour. Before walking off the job on Thursday morning, he was earning just $15 an hour. Although technically classified as a laborer, Melendez says that for the last several months, he’s actually been responsible for all the rigging on the West 57th Street job site.
“I was promised a raise, but every time I was given the runaround,” Melendez said.
Ironworkers were also set to demonstrate against irresponsible development outside the headquarters of Macklowe Properties on 5th Avenue later in the day.
Organized labor groups and other worker rights advocates have been putting increasing pressure on city government to mandate apprentice training and to do a better job of enforcing existing safety regulations.
A Manhattan judge recently convicted an outfit called Harco Construction in the death of 22-year-old Ecuadorian emigre Carlos Moncayo, a non-union construction worker who was killed on the job last year.
“Inside there are holes in the walls from the crane operator slamming loads into the side of the building,” Melendez added. “It’s very unsafe. There’re guys working with their harnesses on — but they’re not tied off to anything.”