NY construction workers protest deaths, nonunion sites

By Willie Cotton
October 7, 2019

NEW YORK — More than 200 construction workers, most coming straight from nearby job sites, rallied outside the offices of New Line Structures in midtown Manhattan Sept. 17. New Line, one of the top 10 construction firms in the city, has been at the forefront of using nonunion contractors. The action was sponsored by a number of construction unions.

Over the last 10 years New York City construction bosses have pushed the unions out of growing numbers of worksites in their drive to increase profits. Barely 30% of construction sites are union today, compared to 90% in the 1970s. As a result deaths and injuries on the job are rising. Last year 761 construction workers were injured and a dozen killed here.

Several workers in the crowd pointed out to Militant  correspondents the nonunion crew perched on scaffolding above a busy sidewalk next to the rally. “Look at that, people are walking right under them, there’s no flagman, what if they drop a hammer?” one worker said. “None of the workers are tied down” with safety harnesses that would prevent them from falling.

“Workers’ deaths are unacceptable,” Joe Scopo, organizing director for the Cement & Concrete Workers District Council of the Laborers International Union, told the rally. Scopo noted that most of the injuries and deaths on the job were at nonunion sites. He called for a minute of silence for workers who died on the job.

Scopo introduced “our immigrant brother” Juan Carlos Díaz, a nonunion electrical worker, who spoke about conditions at the these worksites. Díaz is a leader of New Immigrant Community Empowerment, based in Queens.

“We worked for a subcontractor who does work for New Line,” said Díaz. “We worked hard for six months. They only paid us for three.” Rally participants chanted, “No wage theft!”

Workers know that the union is being pushed back and are discussing what to do about it. Many know that addressing the question of solidarity with workers without papers is a key part of that.

Electrician Anthony Alvarez told the Militant  that the bosses at union sites have been stepping up the pressure on workers. “They want you to work up to the last second, even if there is nothing more you can do,” Alvarez said. “I look out the window and I see more and more nonunion sites.”

Seth Galinsky, Socialist Workers Party candidate for New York City public advocate, and supporters passed out his campaign statement headlined, “No Worker Has to Die on the Job! Organize the Unorganized! Amnesty for All Undocumented Immigrants in the U.S.!”

One worker told Galinsky he disagreed, saying the problem is “illegal workers taking our jobs.”

“We can’t let the bosses pit us against each other,” Galinsky said, “that’s why we have to fight for amnesty and to organize them into the unions.”

Galinsky was the final speaker at the rally. “Workers must have the right to stop work if there are unsafe conditions and to say nothing moves until they are fixed,” Galinsky said to applause. “We need to say to fellow workers who are not in the union: ‘We don’t care where you were born, what language you speak, we want you in the union so we can fight together.’”