New York

I-Team: 33 NYC Construction Worker Deaths in 2 Years Prompt New Calls for Safety Measures

What to Know

  • 33 construction workers have died on the job in New York City in the last two years, prompting renewed calls for better safety measures
  • One bill in the City Council, called Local 1447, requires workers to get safety training and take an apprenticeship course
  • Some construction industry advocates say the bill keeps the poorest job applicants out of work, including undocumented immigrants

A controversial bill requiring construction workers in New York City to get safety training and take an apprenticeship course is getting backlash from some developers and worker advocates. 

Lawmakers have been promising more stringent safety measures since 33 construction workers in the city were killed on the job in the last two years. Laurie Smith, the mother of one those workers, says officials haven't taken enough steps to protect other construction workers from preventable deaths. 

Smith's son, Christian Ginesi, was a 25-year-old veteran with dreams of becoming an engineer when he decided to take a quick construction job before starting school. He was at work building a luxury hotel in 2015 when he plummeted 24 stories down a midtown elevator shaft at a site run by G-Tech, a company without a license to operate in New York City. 

"My son survived three tours in a war zone, and here he is on a job in New York for a month. And he's dead," said Smith. 

She recalled thinking, "There has to be some mistake. This can't be happening." 

Now Smith, who's suing G-Tech, claiming the company didn't teach her son how to do the job, is feeling fresh rage at lawmakers. 

"His life could have been saved. He had his whole life ahead of him... if it was 33 doctors, 33 politicians or stockbrokers, there would be an uproar," she said.

"Anyone -- you and I -- could get a job working on an elevator. That's insane," said Smith. 

G-Tech declined the I-Team's request for comment. 

Jumaane Williams, the chair of the City Council's buildings committee, acknowledged to the I-Team, "We were derelict in moving fast enough, but we are on a course to get something done." 

This week, the City Council approved a bill that requires a better database of who gets hurt or killed in a fall, but the fate of the more controversial Local 1447 bill is still unknown. 

The proposed law would require construction workers to not only get safety training, but to take an apprenticeship course. To enroll, workers need a work visa and a GED. Some construction advocates claim that keeps the poorest job applicants out of work.

"We would like to see the barriers of entry be lowered a bit to enable people to benefit from the construction boom -- feed their families and be safe on construction sites," said Kenneth Thomas of NY Construction Alliance. 

And the powerful Real Estate Board of New York says the bill unfairly targets big developers instead of the smaller sites where most accidents happen. REBNY's president told the I-Team that "data, not rhetoric, should guide policy to improve construction safety." 

But defenders of the bill point to companies like Harco, which was found guilty of manslaughter after allowing worker Carlos Moncayo to die in an unprotected construction trench that collapsed in the Meatpacking District in 2015. Moncayo was "told to work at a death trap," said Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, but the most Harco could be asked to pay for breaking the law is $10,000. 

"The fines that a company would have to pay were nothing more than pocket change," said Vance, who formed a task force to cut down on construction accidents and wants the fine raised to $1 million. 

That's up to state lawmakers, and Assemblyman Francisco Moya has told the I-Team, "We're not gonna fail. We're gonna make sure this passes."

"People need to be in jail," said councilman Williams. "People are in effect being murdered on the site." 

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