May 11, 2105
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – The city council is responding to the latest death to occur at a New York City construction site with a special hearing on Monday morning in which Buildings Department officials are expected to face touch questions about why so many construction workers are dying on the job.
Christian Ginesi, a 25-year-old construction worker from Jersey City managed to survive several tours overseas fighting the nation’s “War on Terror” only to die in a construction-related accident on West 46th Street last Tuesday. He was the ninth person to die in a construction-related accident so far this year.
On Saturday, Councilman Jumaane Williams [D-45th District], chair of the Committee on Housing and Buildings, along with Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, stood outside the West 46th Street hotel where Ginesi died last week after tragically plummeting 24 floors, and talked about the need to investigate the way large-scale buildings are being constructed in this town.
“I wish I could say this [death] was an anomaly, but, of course, many of us know it was not,” Councilman Williams said.
New York City’s construction industry is booming — the amount of money being spent, permits being issued and people being hired, are all on the rise. So, too, however, are the number of injuries and deaths directly related to the boom.
During the city’s last building boom in 2008, there were 407 construction-related incidents. This year, that number has risen to 458 construction-related incidents.
Still not yet at 2015’s midpoint, New York City has already suffered more construction-related deaths than it experienced all of last year.
Borough President Brewer said that Mayor Bill de Blasio’s drive to build or preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing over the next decade makes Monday’s 10 a.m. hearing at City Hall all the more crucial.
“We have to look at the bigger problem,” the borough president said. “I am concerned that builders, developers and contractors, they’re not necessarily supporting a culture that looks at basic public safety. And who’s going to pay the price? We really have to stop this disturbing trend.”
Just a few weeks ago, Councilman Williams, along with Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal [D-6th District], convened a special joint hearing on the mayor’s affordable housing plan, and found that contractors and subcontractors guilty of a whole host of wage and safety violations routinely get little more than a city imposed “time-out” before being allowed to go right back to business.
Councilman Williams said that those who end up suffering the most are the “people who other people think they can take advantage of.”
“And too may times they are correct,” the Brooklyn lawmaker said. “I’m not sure there’s an incentive to be safer.”
Ellen Davidson, representative from the Legal Aid Society and the Real Affordability for All coalition, complained that economics are, indeed, tumping safety on jobsites througout the city.
“The market forces that are pushing those buildings to go up are about developers making profit, and has nothing to do with affordable housing," Davidson said.
The lack of proper safety training on non-union construction sites is an issue that both Councilman Williams and Borough President Brewer say needs to be further explored.
“I absolutely believe very strongly in union jobs,” Borough President Brewer said. “When you have scaffolding, or you have the Local 79 laborers doing the work…they do training. And to the best of my knowledge, the non-unions do not. I am a big believer for the situations that we are describing, with the size of these buildings, that it has to be a union job because they always have training. It makes a big difference.”
Whether someone belongs to a union or not, Allen S. Wright, political director, International Union of Operating Engineers Local 14, said construction workers shouldn’t have to go to jobs where their lives are in jeopardy because of lax safety measures.
“You can’t risk the public at large and workers for the sake of saving a dollar,” Wright told LaborPress. “You can’t cut corners. I’m pro union, but I’m also pro-life. And I don’t want to see anyone lose their life. Safety precautions need to be taken.”
Councilman Williams said he has little doubt that construction site safety is being sacrificed in the interest of saving money.
“I think people are going to try and save money where they can, and, unfortunately, they save money with people who they believe can’t speak out.”