Protesters carried caskets along the streets of Manhattan last week as they called on the construction industry to implement measures to counter the rising number of worker deaths in the city.
“Tragedies at construction sites have become all too common,” said Gary LaBarbera, the president of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York. “We are outraged – and all of New York should be outraged – that irresponsible developers and contractors increasingly are putting their bottom lines ahead of the workers who are the lifeblood of their businesses. This must end. Today, we call on our public officials to be a voice for the voiceless, and on the real estate development community to lead by example. We need real change, we need it now and today we are sending a clear message: There can be no middle ground. You are part of the problem or part of the solution.”
The protesters, who organized a parade of coffins that went from the corner of Nassau and Beekman Streets to City Hall Park, called for heavier penalties for negligent developers and contractors. This was echoed by politicians who joined the protests, which include members of the New York City Council, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and New York City Public Advocate Letitia James.
“We must treat deaths in construction as no less of a crisis as if it were in any other industry,” Council Member Mark Levine said during the rally. “The idea is to prevent the next death, to intervene when there’s a pattern of bad behavior.”
In 2015, 16 construction workers have died on the job, double the number of fatalities from 2014. This includes Fernando Vanegas, who died along with two other workers after a retaining wall collapsed at a construction site in Brooklyn. According to a New York Times report, he had spoken about problems at the work site before the incident. An unnamed source said that there were no proper precautions for conducting excavation work on the site.
According to an earlier report from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, 75 percent of construction deaths in 2014 happened in non-union work sites. One of the cases, which involved a man being buried alive in a Meatpacking District site, prompted the Manhattan DA to press manslaughter charges against the building contractor.