NY Real Estate Trade Group Now Supports Carlos’s Law

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The bill that will levy hefty fines on criminal contractors whose negligence results in a worker’s serious injury or death, may finally become a law in New York.

Carlos’s Law may finally emerge from life support and become established law in New York state.

 

In 2015 a young worker, Carlos Moncayo, died on a non-union construction site where the managing company had ignored a raft of safety violations issued by OSHA (the Occupational Safety and Health Administration). Though that company, Harco Construction, was found guilty of manslaughter, the maximum fine OSHA could levy was just $10,000.

 

The Manhattan District Attorney at the time, Cyrus Vance, called the size of that fine “monopoly money” to large construction companies. The executive director of the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH), Charlene Obernauer, wondered if the small fines were a mere cost calculation to contractors who are eager to bend the rules to raise their own profits. "They know that the fines will be less expensive than the cost of doing a job properly, most safely, without cutting corners," she said.

The current fines for negligence that cause a construction worker's death have been called mere "monopoly money" to wealthy contractors. 

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Then-Assemblyman Francisco Moya wrote Carlos's Law after Carlos Moncayo was killed on a construction site that had many open safety citations. When asked why contractors ignore safety rules and endanger their workers, he said, "Because they can."

Swift Action

After Moncayo died, the New York legislature responded quickly. Assemblyman Francisco Moya, now a New York City Councilmember, drafted Carlos’s Law to raise those penalties up to $500,000 and $1 million when a serious injury or death is determined to be a result of criminal conduct. Moya said the law would establish endangering the welfare of a worker in the first degree as a class D felony; second degree as a class E felony; and in the third degree as a class A misdemeanor. Carlos’s Law quickly passed the Assembly.

 

But it stalled in the New York Senate where it has languished ever since. In the legislative sessions that have followed, senator after senator has become sponsor of the bill only to see it remain on the sidelines. Not a single vote for the bill has been had in the Senate since it first stalled.

 

The apparent cause of the holdup has been the language around felony charges. Powerful forces within New York state didn’t want developers of construction projects to potentially be held responsible for the crimes committed by the contractors they hire. And those forces have reportedly used their influence to keep Carlos’s Law in neutral.

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State Senator James Sanders is the current sponsor of bill S3314A, Carlos's Law, which now has a path to approval thanks to changes negotiated with New York real estate trade groups.

REBNY Gets On Board

But according to the real estate industry publication The RealDeal, recent negotiations between industry representatives, including the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY), and members of the Senate, directed by the current bill sponsor, Senator James Sanders, have led to changes to the language around felony charges. The bill now has the blessing of the New York real estate trade group and an apparent a path to approval.

 

“We are proud to partner on sensible and effective legislation that makes clear that companies who shirk their obligation to protect their workers will face serious consequences,” the groups said in a joint statement.

 

The penalties in Calos’s Law now start at $500,000 per incident, and developers may have to reconsider what companies they hire. When the safety enforcers are no longer restricted to issuing fines that amount to monopoly money, unscrupulous contractors like Harco will have to change their cost calculations when considering whether to obey the law or not.

 

And for the workers: if and when Carlos’s Law is enacted, fewer construction workers will die on the job.

The Case of Carlos Moncayo

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Carlos Moncayo was a 22-year-old immigrant working for Harco Construction when he entered an unrestrained pit which collapsed on him.

Carlos Moncayo came to New York City from Ecuador to help his family get by. He had construction skills and believed he could get a good paying job here. One person familiar with his story said, "When he landed a job at Harco, working in Manhattan, he must have felt like he hit pay-dirt. A job at an established company in a booming industry. I'm sure he was excited about what he could accomplish for his family."

 

But what Moncayo may not have known is exactly what Harco Construction was recognized for. They were a corner-cutter, skimping on materials and safety practices in the name of higher profits — which is one reason they may have chosen to employ only non-unionized personnel.

 

OSHA (the Occupational Safety and Health Administration) had issued many safety violations at the 9th Avenue construction site where Moncayo was working. More than one of those citations was for failing to use earthen wall retainers in the sub-ground work areas. Such retainers are required on worksites where people must go below ground level to work. But none were employed on the Harco site. On the very morning that Moncayo would die, Harco was issued another citation for lacking these retainers.

 

 

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A still from a video captured the morning of Carlos Moncayo's death shows a 13-foot deep unrestrained earthen trench on the Harco job site.

Moncayo Is Ordered Into The Pit

After receiving the OSHA citation and the inspector had left the location, the Harco site manager sent Moncayo into the pit to work. Only minutes after entering the trench, it collapsed on Moncayo, who was buried alive.

Council member Moya said, "The reason why he went in that pit wasn't because he thought it was safe. He knew that if he didn't, he wouldn't have a paycheck to bring home to his family. That's a choice I hope no one ever has to make, between putting food on the table and sacrificing their own life."

 

Former Manhattan labor-crimes prosecutor Diana Florence put a financial point on it. She said “his life was not worth 50 dollars worth of shoring to his employer or the developer.”

 

Ms. Florence successfully convicted the Harco executives of manslaughter in the Moncayo case, but the maximum fine OSHA could levy against them was just $10,000. Many watch dogs of the industry believe bad-acting contractors simply factor fines and penalties into their balance sheet because the fines are so small that they don't make cheating unprofitable. 

Carlos's Law, in which penalties for a serious injury or a death caused by criminal negligence start at $500,000 and $1 million respectively, will change that calculation.

 

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