OPINION

Money or Life? You Choose.

Non-union contractors choose to cut corners on safety to raise their profits, and their workers often pay for that choice with their lives. Now it’s time for us to choose.

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Would you ignore fatal negligence on the job if that negligence produced higher profit margins for your bosses? Would this choice represent your values? For many workers, the answer is not as simple as you might think.

 

Take the sad tales of Luis Almonte Sanchez and Carlos Moncayo. Both men valued family and were happy to work in New York City’s booming construction industry so they could provide.

 

It was their value of family that made both men choose to ignore their better instincts when bosses sent them to tasks that were unnecessarily hazardous. They agreed to work risky assignments because they knew if they didn’t—if they even objected—their bosses would fire them and their families would suffer.

 

Some might say that’s no choice at all.

Higher profit margins for rich developers, or real safety measures on construction sites. You can decide.

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At left, the collapsed wall that came down in Sunset Park, Brooklyn despite repeated warnings given to the managing construction company, WSC Group, that their job site was unsafe and needed changes. At right, Luis Almonte Sanchez, the worker who was buried beneath that collapse.

Both men would die in very similar episodes of construction management negligence at two separate non-union New York construction sites 17 months apart.

 

Mr. Sanchez died on a site in Sunset Park, Brooklyn managed by WSC Group, LLC. The managers there ignored multiple citations from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and repeated warnings of disturbed and unfortified soil around the construction site. The issue was so dire that a neighbor’s garage and patio had caved in.

 

But WSC chose to ignore these warnings, to not make adjustments, and to continue to send workers into the literal trenches.

 

So it’s no surprise that on September 12, 2018, a portion of the excavation system and an existing masonry wall adjacent to residential apartment buildings collapsed, trapping Mr. Sanchez. First responders couldn't recover his body until the following day due to unstable conditions at the site, which were worsened by significant rain.

 

WSC managers were charged with manslaughter and more in the death of Mr. Sanchez. The Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez said, "Despite a construction-related conviction for attempted bribery a few years earlier, the construction company operator allegedly continued to play fast and loose with safety protocols, taking shortcuts to increase profit margin, this time with deadly consequences." DA Gonzalez continued, "We allege that the dangerous conditions at the site, which had been reported by laborers and neighbors, were ignored by these defendants and directly led to the death of Luis Almonte Sanchez, a 47-year-old family man."

Forced to choose between avoiding unnecessary lethal risk and providing for their families, these men chose family, and paid with their lives.

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Carlos Moncayo was 22 years old when Harco Construction managers sent him into an unrestrained 13-foot deep earthen pit like the one pictured on the left. Harco had received multiple safety citations for missing trench protection walls and more. The wall collapsed on Mr. Moncayo, who died on the scene.

Change the name of the offending company and the name of the victim, and you have the same summary of what happened to Carlos Moncayo 17 months earlier on a non-union construction site run by Harco Construction in Manhattan. Despite repeated warnings about not having the proper earth retaining structures in place, including a warning issued on the morning of Mr. Moncayo’s death, Harco chose to ignore the danger created by their cost-cutting, and they required Mr. Moncayo to enter an unsecured 13-foot deep pit.

 

Moments after entering the pit, the walls collapsed and Mr. Moncayo, 22, was buried alive.

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Choices Matter

In both stories, hard-working laborers were forced to choose between performing unnecessarily life-threatening tasks and providing for their families. They did not work for a union, so they had no representation protecting their safety, their pay, or their dignity. Beholden to bosses who prioritized their own revenues above their workers’ lives, these workers made the only choice they believed they had.

 

On the management side, the contractors chose profits over safety. They chose to ignore not only the repeated warnings from OSHA, from the Department of Buildings, and from citizen witnesses, they also chose to ignore their responsibility to provide a safe work environment for their employees.

 

Here are some facts that are hard to ignore: Over 60 construction workers have died on the job in New York City over the past five years, making it a more deadly occupation than working for the police or being a fire-fighter. Over 80% of those deaths occurred at non-union job sites, according to OSHA, many of which had outstanding safety citations. The choice of many managers to prioritize profits over worker safety is a main cause of this monumental tragedy.

 

Will We Ignore This Injustice?

Will the politicians, the city managers, and we the citizens choose to ignore the wrongs that happen every day, on non-union construction sites, where business managers prioritize profits over safety and unrepresented workers pay the price for that greed? Or will we speak up and demand that contractors be forced to choose safety and people over higher profits, that they follow the laws already in place to protect workers, that they correct work site problems when they are cited by inspectors?

 

While many abused workers in New York may feel they have no choice when told to step into danger, the rest of us do have choices.

  • Write your councilmember and demand that they fight for measures supporting construction unions.

  • Call your state senator and demand that they pass Carlos’ Law and get it to the Governor’s desk for signature as soon as possible.

  • And when shopping for real estate in New York City ask your realtor to only show you union-built buildings.

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