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Gonzalez Vows to Work with Carpenters In Rooting Out Bad Developers

June 30, 2017
By Joe Maniscalco 

Stephen McInnis and Eric Gonzalez shake hands.

Brooklyn, NY - Brooklyn’s acting District Attorney, and inside favorite to win September’s crowded primary race, has earned the NYC District Council of Carpenters endorsement this week, vowing to devote the necessary resources to successfully identify and prosecute crooked real estate developers who put profits over worker safety. 

Last month, acting Brooking District Attorney Eric Gonzalez indicted Michael Weiss and his companies RSBY NY Builders Inc, and Park Ave Builders Inc. for manslaughter and other charges in connection to the 2015 death of 18-year-old construction worker Fernando Vanegaz on a job site in Brooklyn. 

On Wednesday, Gonzalez, 48,  said that cracking down on criminal real estate developers is a mater of focusing the DA Office’s energy “in the right parts.” 

“My predecessor Ken Thompson started a Labor Unit, and we started to do work that the office did not do in the past years,” Gonzalez said following the Carpenters' official endorsement at Cadman Plaza West. “I need to put more resources into that — and I will put resources into it. I’ve been advocating with the city to get more money for the office so that we can continue to do work. I know that everyone thinks that the DA’s office only does violent street crime, or primarily that’s what DA’s office is about. But you have to have this local on-the-ground enforcement of basic safety rules.”

Thompson, who tapped Gonzalez to succeed him, died of colorectal cancer last fall, at the age of 50. 

In addition to hiring more assistant district attorneys and paying them better, the acting Brooklyn District Attorney says he will also continue working with the Carpenters union to identify dangerous real estate developers. 

A total of 35 constriction workers have died on job sites around the city since January 1, 2015 — the overwhelming majority of them non-union. 

“I need somebody that I can go to [with evidence of wrongdoing],” Ruben Colon, a representative with the District Council of Carpenters Area Standards Department, told LaborPress this week. “I have that relationship with the Manhattan District Attorney, and I’d like to see that in Brooklyn.”

Colon said that the acting Brooklyn District Attorney has already demonstrated his commitment to worker safety with the Weiss indictment. 

“I believe that Eric is coming back strong,” Colon added. “And when he becomes district attorney, I do believe he will go out of his way. He’s already proven to us with regard to the worker death on Myrtle Avenue. He came through.”

In accepting the Carpenters’ endorsement, Gonzalez said that it is important for the public to know accidents on construction sites will not be “swept under the carpet.”

“We work closely with the Department of Buildings, the Department of Investigations — and now a new partnership with many of our trade unions — to let me know when there are things going the wrong way, so that we can investigate them, [and] we can try to cut off some of these tragedies before they actually happen," Gonzalez said.

Eric Gonzalez is putting bad builders on notice.

NYC District Council of Carpenters President Stephen McInnis acknowledged the huge responsibilities facing any district attorney, but stressed the importance of maintaining an ongoing dialogue with the office in an era where the construction industry is proving to be deadly for far too many workers. 

“It’s something where you have a lot of pressing issues; it’s very difficult to kind of crack through,” McInnis said. “But with the amount of construction going on, we feel that it’s a timely issue, it’s a widespread issue and it’s something that deserves attention.”

Despite the outrageous loss of life over the last couple of years, Gonzalez said that injured and killed workers have simply become the cost of doing business for many developers in the construction industry. 

“And that can’t be the standard by which we operate,” Gonzalez said. “So, I’m going to hold people accountable. And that’s the plan. We’re going to go around this borough to make sure that the real estate developers understand that they will be held accountable if they take shortcuts that are illegal and cause people to get injured or lose their lives.”

The growing list of labor unions supporting Gonzalez’ primary run include 1199SEIU Healthcare Workers East, 32BJ, RWDSU, TWU, UFT and others. 

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