Building Trades

‘Too Many Hard Hats On The Altar’

April 28, 2015
By Joe Maniscalco

The city needs to respond to construction worker deaths, critics say.

The city needs to respond to construction worker deaths, critics say.

New York, NY – Last Friday’s fatal crane accident at a non-union job site on East 44th Street underscored, yet again, just how high the stakes are in the building industry. But those gathered at St. Patrick’s on Tuesday for this year’s Workers Memorial Day observance already knew that. What they want to know now is what the City of New York is going to do about it. 

Trevor Loftus, a 40-year-old Irish emigre, was tragically killed last week when the truck-mounted crane he was inspecting suddenly collapsed at 219 East 44th Street, site of the new 36-story Even Hotel. 

The incident is still under investigation. But what is already known is that 79 percent of fatalities on the job occur at non-union job sites just like the one where Loftus died. 

“The city is not doing enough to police all job sites — non-union or union,” Ironworkers Local 580 Business Manager James Mahoney told LaborPress on Monday. 

Overall, the building industry is highly regulated. But the City of New York does not regulate or inspect truck mounted cranes. The truck-mounted crane that crushed Loftus while he was attempting an inspection had reportedly been malfunctioning prior to the horrific accident. 

So far this year, eight people have been killed at construction sites around the city — construction workers and pedestrians alike. That grim figure matches the total number of all construction site deaths recorded last year. 

The hard hats that are expected to be reverently placed upon the church altar on Tuesday afternoon serve to memorialize workers who have died on the job. 

“A lot of the non-union jobs are not training their people, or care about their people like the union does,” New York State Building & Construction Trades Council President James Cahill told LaborPress. “The five-year apprenticeship training is not just about the trades people alone — it’s about keeping them safe as well as the people they work with safe.”

This year, failing building equipment, wall collapses, deadly falls, and gas explosions have all claimed the lives of construction workers expecting to return home safely at the end the day. 

“It’s not the men [that are to blame],” Mahoney said. “They’re just not trained properly.”

New York City is in the midst of a building boom, and Mayor Bill de Blasio is committed to constructing or preserving 200,000 units of affordable housing over the next 10 years. 

Those critical of the way the administration is choosing to execute that ambitious plan, however, want the city to stop doing business with contractors and subcontractors who continuously violate worker rights.

Improper training leading to injury and death sits atop a long list of unscrupulous building practices that includes wage theft, sexual harassment and racism. 

“When the city starts to value lives more than they do now, that’s when things will change,” Mahoney said.

April 27, 2015

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