Three-year death toll hits 39 on NYC high rises

Sept 26, 2017 - Twice in one day last week, workers in New York City fell to their deaths in an epidemic that for two years has plagued high-rise construction in Manhattan.

According to the New York Daily News, the two fatalities took place within five hours of each other. Over the last three years, 39 construction workers have died in the city. More than 90 percent of the deaths are taking place at nonunion job sites, where training that is acquired through construction apprenticeship programs is nonexistent.

The alarming fatality rate compares to a figure of zero such tragedies in the city of Los Angeles during the same period, where booming construction projects going up all over downtown are mostly being built under project labor agreements where builders are required to hire from a skilled and trained workforce.

“The carnage that has taken place in New York City is a direct result of developers and contractors exploiting an unskilled and untrained work force,” said Robbie Hunter, president of the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California. “In the big cities of California, we are experiencing the same level of increase in construction as New York, but without the epidemic of workers being killed at numbers that are completely unacceptable. The requirements that California has established that a minimum of 60 percent of workers on these projects are graduates of state approved apprenticeship programs ensure that each worker has the ability to make decisions that will allow them to go home to their families each night.

“The 450,000 workers of the California Building and Construction Trades, including 58,000 in apprenticeship, join the New York Building Trades in calling on the New York City Council and the legislators of the state of New York to immediately set standards that will require a majority of workers on dangerous high rise construction to be graduates of New York state construction apprenticeship programs.”

Last Thursday’s first New York construction death took place at 9:15 a.m. when Juan Chonillo, 36, an Ecuadorian immigrant, fell 29 stories from a lower Manhattan construction site. The paper said Chonillo was employed by SSC High Rise Construction.

The day before Chonillo’s death, city building inspectors hit the site with a partial stop-work order. The Daily News said the action came in response to an unsafe crane operation. The site has been subject to nine different construction-related code violations since January, the newspaper reported.

Around 2 p.m. on Thursday, an unidentified 45-year-old man fell 36 feet from a bucket lift to his death at a site in the Chelsea district. Another worker died from another five-story fall at the same site in June, the Daily News said. 

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