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Majority of City's Construction Deaths Were at Non-Union Sites: Officials

By  Rosa Goldensohn and Danielle Tcholakian | August 27, 2015 2:14pm 

 A man was hurt in a fall at 577 Ninth Ave. August 25, officials said.
A man was hurt in a fall at 577 Ninth Ave. August 25, officials said.
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DNAinfo/Anton Nilsson

MIDTOWN — Six of the eight construction-related deaths in the city this year happened at non-union sites, according to the Building Trades union, which warned that the city's construction boom could be jeopardizing worker safety.

A 30-year-old construction worker died Tuesday after falling down an elevator shaft at a non-union construction site in Hell’s Kitchen. He was not wearing a harness, sources said.

The Department of Buildings said the death was still under investigation.

The man was the eighth person to die on a construction site in the city so far this year, according to DOB statistics.

There were eight deaths at construction sites in all of 2014, city officials said. Federal investigators found that 75 percent of the construction deaths in NYC last year happened at non-union work sites, according to a report from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

► In January, a worker died in an elevator shaft at a work site on West 70th St.

► In March, a woman was killed by a piece of plywood that flew off a non-union site in Greenwich Village.

► In April, a 40-year-old man was crushed by a crane at a nonunion site, another man fell six stories to his death while doing cement work, and a third man, age 22, was buried alive in an unreinforced hole in the Meatpacking District, all on non-union sites.

The Manhattan District Attorney pressed manslaughter charges against the contractors in the last case, where Carlos Moncayo was killed.

Union worksites accounted for two of the deaths, the Building Trades union said:

► A 52-year-old ironworker was trapped under steel joists while installing the Barclays Center’s green roof in February.

► A 25-year-old fell from scaffolding in the Bronx in May.

Building Trades head Gary LaBarbera said union sites are safer than non-union sites because of more strict oversight and representation of the workers.

“The [nonunion] workers, they have no power, no protection, no representation,” LaBarbera said. “If the workers challenge any authority, they’re fired. That’s what the situation is — they’re powerless, they have no recourse, they’re often forced to be in very dangerous situations.”

He said that if union representatives had been on worksites like the one where Carlos Moncayo died in April, “the foremen would call the men right off,” he said. “They would come right off.”

According to an investigation by the Manhattan DA and the city’s Department of Investigation, the foremen on Moncayo’s site had been warned for months that their site was unsafe, including repeatedly in the hours immediately before Moncayo was crushed to death in an unstable excavation pit.

The joint investigation also unearthed several emails from employees to higher-ups at the construction company, Harco, warning that the site was unsafe. Investigators found that instead of addressing the problems, senior executives at the company responded to the emails by ordering underlings to stop putting complaints in writing, they said.

Harco CEO Kenneth Hart has since been suspended by the Department of Buildings for racking up 30 “immediately hazardous” violations at sites all over the city, including a pre-K center in Jamaica, Queens.