Immigrant Workers Pay Price Of NYC’s Construction Industry Boom

WJPMemorialDayEvery year on April 28th, Workers’ Memorial Day honors the memory of workers who have died that year.

Members of the Worker’s Justice Project (WJP) joined New York Committee on Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH) and the New York Central Labor Council in the released of a new report (“It’s No Accident: A Report on Workplace Deaths in New York State—Focus on Construction”) that found:

  • Construction was the deadliest industry, with immigrants comprising half of all construction deaths;
  • Most of these deaths were preventable;
  • OSHA fines are too low to incentivize safety, with an average fine of $12,767; and
  • It would take OSHA 103 years to inspect every New York worksite. With only 71 inspectors,

OSHA staffing is at its lowest level in 5 years. “It’s sad enough that all of these men and women died,” said Charlene Obernauer, Executive Director of the New York Committee on Occupational Safety and Health. “But to think that their deaths couldhave been prevented is just tragic. I hope our elected officials learn from these deaths and implement our common-sense recommendations before another preventable death occurs.”

Recommendations included:

  • Protect New York’s Scaffold Safety Law. Construction work in New York State is made
  • safer by this law, which holds employers accountable when they cut corners on workers’ safety when working at heights and put workers lives at risk. Jaime Sillart was working on a scaffold when he fell to his death and was the victim of a preventable accident.
  • Substantially increase OSHA’s budget and the number of inspectors and inspections.
  • Implement Federal Department of Labor pilot projects targeting specific industries where high percentages of immigrants work, including construction.
  • Increase the number of OSHA staff members who are qualified interpreters and who are fluent in the most common languages spoken by Limited English Proficiency workers.

“How many workers’ must be injured or lose their lives before real safety precautions become standard for all worksites?” said Vincent Alvarez, President of the New York City Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO. “Working men and women cannot be called upon to make the ultimate sacrifice, while employers allow the pursuit of profits to rule the day. As we remember these workers, we must reaffirm our commitment to continue to fight tirelessly for protections for all working men and women.”
The worksite location at 435 West 50th Street has been labeled an “unsafe worksite” by NYCOSH, and is the target of an open OSHA inspection that issued a “serious violation” related to scaffolding to the construction company, JDS construction.

Member of the Worker’s Justice Project (WJP) spoke about their own experiences on unsafe worksites, and urged the company to do more to protect its workers. “We pay the price of the NYC housing boom,” said Antonio Sanchez, safety liaison of the Workers’Justice Project. “Every day immigrant construction workers like myself put our lives at risk. Many have gotten injured because irresponsible contractors provide us defective and machinery, weak scaffolding, broken ladders or simply no safety protection. Others have lost their lives while building new building apartments for New Yorkers.”

Immigrant construction workers deserve dignity and respect of better working conditions. Worker’s Justice Project (WJP) is committed to make it happen!