New York, NY – “Somebody needs to pass a law saying this can’t happen anymore.”
That’s how Donald Nesbit, Local 372 executive vice-president, is reacting to the death of his friend since childhood, Gregory Echevarria — one of a trio of construction workers tragically killed on non-union job sites last week.
Nesbit and Echevarria grew up together on the streets of Bushwick, Brooklyn where everyone who knew the late construction worker called him “Mo.”
“We hung out together all the time,” Nesbit told LaborPress on Monday. “He was a very good guy to everybody — laughing and joking. He was so full of joy and love and meant a lot to a lot of people.”
The 34-year-old father of four was crushed early on Saturday, April 13, when a massive counter weight came loose as he was erecting a crane at Varick and Broome streets near the Holland Tunnel.
That same week, 23-year-old Erik Mendoza fell off a building in Brooklyn Heights and died while laying bricks on top of a tony Pierrepont Street co-op. Nelson Salinas, 51, lost his life two days prior, on Monday, after being stuck in the head with falling debris as he worked on a scaffold at 311 East 50th Street in Manhattan.
The trio of horrible deaths has prompted Council Member Robert Carnegy, Jr. [D-36th District], chair of the Committee on Housing and Buildings, to call for full implementation of Local Law 196. Established in 2017, in the midst of still more construction worker deaths on predominantly nonunion job sites, the measure requires construction workers complete 100 hours of approved safety training. Local Law 196, however, has yet to see actual real world compliance.
Building and Construction Trades Council President Gary LaBarbera issued a statement following last week’s construction worker deaths “mourning the loss of our fellow brothers in the construction industry” and calling on non-union contractors to adhere to “higher safety standards.”
“Once again, these unacceptable tragedies demonstrate the urgent need of irresponsible non-union contractors to meet higher standard of safety so that we can protect the lives of construction workers and prevent senseless accidents.”
The Building Trades also sent out a Tweet saying “non-union contractors should be ashamed.”
“They are not only endangering workers, the the public as well,” The Building Trades statement said. “The facts are clear: the Building Trades and union contractors provide accountability and responsibility. How many more deaths will it take for the development and construction industries to realize it’s time for change? Immediate action must be taken by non-union contractors to improve safety standards and prevent these types of accidents from happening again.”
Nesbit says that certainly some kind of legislation that provides safety for people in the workplace must be enacted.
“No worker, regardless of what job you work on, should have to say goodbye to their family in the morning and not return home. That’s just not acceptable,” he said.
After serving three tours of military service in the never-ending wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Nesbit says his buddy Mo never really talked about working non-union or what conditions were like on the construction sites he was sent, because “he was just happy to get a job.”
“A lot of our veterans come home to nothing,” Nesbit said. “He came home to nothing. Seeking employment because he had three kids at the time. So, he found this job. His brother [Keith] was there and he was happy. He was happy to be working and able to support his family.”
Keith was still there for his brother on Saturday when Gregory died at the scene of the crane accident.
Nesbit last spoke to Keith just a few days ago and recalls what was said this way, “He said, ‘I can still smell my brother’s hair and his blood on my hands. I held him as he died.”
This was not the first fatality to occur on a non-union Cranes Express job site — and it is not the first time Keith has been forced to watch a co-worker die on the job. In 2016, two construction workers in Queens were killed when an I-beam being hosted by a piece of Cranes Express machinery came loose and plummeted four stores on top of the men.
Nesbit remembers Keith telling him about the profound sadness of seeing a co-worker die on the job — and how last Saturday’s accident was even worse.
“It’s a co-worker….everybody feels sad. But you go back to work,” he said. “But how do I return back to work when it’s my brother this time that died?”
Nesbit believes that following the deaths of Salinas, Mendoza, and his friend Mo, Local Law 196 will be fully implemented. But too high a cost has already been paid.
“It’s just a sad case when we have to do things reactively instead of proactively,” Nesbit said. “We should start being proactive and doing things before these types of tragedies happen instead of after. We speak to this being a ‘union town’ and how we need to fight for workers’ rights… [but] workers are just being put in unsafe conditions on construction sites. Somebody needs to speak to it.”