Health and Safety

NYC Workers Remember Their Dead, Defend the Living

April 29, 2017 
By Steven Wishnia

New York, NY – With many holding red roses bearing the name of a worker killed on the job last year, about 150 people gathered outside District Council 37’s Lower Manhattan headquarters April 28 for Workers’ Memorial Day.

Some 50,000 American workers a year die from job-related injuries and occupational diseases, Charlene Obernauer of the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health told the crowd. That’s about 150 every day—a number NYCOSH chair Lee Clarke called “overwhelming.”

“Their deaths, entirely preventable, rise to the level of a crime, and to use religious language, a social sin,” Rabbi Michael Feinberg said in his invocation.

“Workers in the construction industry are being murdered due to greed,” said Santos Rodriguez of the New York City Building and Construction Trades Council. Since last Apr. 28, he said, 11 have died on the job. Nine of them were nonunion workers, including Jose Cruz, 59, who fell to his death near Times Square April 12. Cruz had a harness on, Rodriguez said, but didn’t have anywhere to tie it off to.

“We have to fight for all workers, union, and nonunion,” he added.

The Uniformed EMTs, Paramedics & Fire Inspectors FDNY, Local 2507 of DC 37, has lost four members in the last five weeks, President Israel Miranda said—two from 9/11-related illnesses, one in an accident, and EMT Yadira Arroyo, a mother of five killed Mar. 16 when a man stole her ambulance and ran her over.

Miranda was first in line when people began reading the names of the dead and dropping roses in front of DC 37’s 9/11 memorial plaque. “Our sister Yadira Arroyo, 44 years old.” “Our sister Rose Scott, 38 years old.” “Our brother Konstantinos Potamousis, 62 years old.” “Our brother Rakesh Ram, 28 years old.” “Our brother Wilfredo Enriques, 59 years old.”

The rally’s theme was the motto of the early 20th-century union organizer Mary Harris “Mother” Jones: “Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.” On the latter side, New York City Central Labor Council President Vincent Alvarez told LaborPress before the rally, the labor movement is pushing the City Council to pass a package of construction-safety bills, to stem the “alarming” loss of life in the industry.

Nationally, he said, it needs to stop the Trump administration’s planned cuts to the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s budget—cuts that are “going to lead to greater workplace hazards and deaths.” OSHA, if anything, needs more staff, he continued, “but it seems like we’re going in the opposite direction.”

OSHA has only 66 inspectors in New York State, according to “Deadly Skyline,” a NYCOSH report on construction safety issued in January. “That’s a decrease,” Obernauer told LaborPress after the memorial. “They had 81 five years ago.”

The Trump administration is proposing a 21% cut in OSHA’s budget. That, Obernauer said, means the agency will not only decrease staff, it will have to reduce the frequency of inspections.

OSHA and its state counterparts have one inspector for every 76,000 workers, according to the AFL-CIO’s annual “Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect” report, released Apr. 26. State OSHA agencies “have enough inspectors to inspect workplaces once every 99 years.” The federal OSHA, it calculated, has enough to inspect the nation’s workplaces once every 159 years.

April 30, 2017

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