May 23, 2016
By Silver Krieger
New York, NY – The second demonstration in a day took place on Thursday in Midtown Manhattan, as union workers met to rally against Gilbane Construction’s use of unsafe, non-union contractors, and to memorialize workers killed on construction sites around the city.
The first rally was at Fulton Street at lunchtime, while the second, at 3:30 pm, was at 59th Street and Third Avenue, at a Gilbane site currently under construction. The contractors hired by Gilbane use sub-contractors, and pay lower wages, lesser benefits, and do not provide adequate training and safety measures.
Chanting, “How many more of us die,” “Whose city? Our city!” and “The American Way, the Union Way!” a crowd of about two hundred workers, labor leaders, and supporters filled the block between 2nd and 3rd Avenues, stopping traffic and eliciting honks of support from some in the stalled cars. Workers carried black coffins and a man wearing a grim reaper costume held his scythe high.
The rallies, organized under the name, “Honoring the Dead; Fighting for the Living,” honored three construction workers who have died in recent job-related accidents, all at non-union sites; one in Harlem, one in Brooklyn, and at a building at Hudson and Clarkson streets in lower Manhattan. In the last 12 months, 16 construction workers have died on the job; 140 in work-related accidents since 2008.
As well as honoring the fallen workers, those at the rally need to protect their jobs. At 59th Street, an organizer told the crowd, “The reason we’re out here today is Gilbane Construction…they decided to go non-union – if they get away with it every contractor in the city will do it…Look around this city. We built this city…the only thing that matters to these developers is the money…make as much money as you want, but we’ll be damned if they’ll use non-union to build this city. Make some noise!”
Attendees at the rally voiced their support. Hunter Bell, a first-year apprentice at Local 79, LIUNA Mason Tenders, said, “we come out to job sites that aren’t supporting union workers, and we all know that New York City is a union town, and Gilbane actually has union workers in Boston, but he comes out here and doesn’t give New Yorkers union work, and we find that pretty unfair.” About the workers killed at the sites, he said: “It’s sad. If people practiced safety, while working, if you had union workers on the job, who knew what they’re doing, how things are supposed to be done, there’d be less tragedy.”
Christian Mejia, who isn’t a union member but who came out to show his support, said, of the fallen: “One is too many. The city needs to look into this and enforce laws to be able to protect workers’ lives.”