By Joe Maniscalco | January 18, 2019 | LaborPress
New York, NY — Interfaith leaders and worker advocates rallying outside the Real Estate Board of New York's 123rd Annual Banquet in Midtown Manhattan, Thursday night, held a moment of silence for exploited construction workers who continue to be consumed on the blood-smeared altar of overdevelopment.
Invited guests of REBNY's annual "Liar's Ball" paid $12,000 a pop to hobnob and honor industry heavyweights including Daniel R. Tishman, Helena Rose Durst, Alex Bernstein and others.
While the rich and powerful pow-wowed inside the tony New York Hilton Midtown located between W. 53rd and W. 54th streets, the activists stood in the cold and denounced the sort of unchecked overdevelopment responsible for upending small businesses and destroying vulnerable lives throughout the city.
"[REBNY] needs a heart transplant," said Rev. Charles Curtis, head of the NY Interfaith Commission for Housing Equality. "Those who've worked here so long, and given so much, and have sacrificed so much, have a right not to be pushed out, priced out and forgotten."
Those who've worked here so long, and given so much, and have sacrificed so much, have a right not to be pushed out, priced out and forgotten. — Rev. Charles Curtis
Despite extensive lobbying of local government officials, REBNY opponents insist that's precisely what has happened to the city's poor and marginalized residents.
Angel Espinoza, 28, was the fifth construction worker to die on the job in 2018, after being fatally struck in the head by a falling beam in Morningside Heights this past summer.
Luis Almonte, 40, was killed in September, on a construction site in Sunset Park, Brooklyn when a wall collapsed on him.
Like the overwhelming number of New York City construction workers killed on the job over the last several years, both men were immigrants of color working on nonunion job sites.
"As you can probably guess — the majority of workers on construction sites that have been killed are predominantly immigrants; predominantly people of color; and predominantly nonunion workers," a spokesperson for the NY Community Alliance for Workers Justice said. "With none of the protections, none of the life insurance for the protection of families to help them continue after something so tragic."
In 2017, as construction worker fatalities continued to mount, the City of New York finally moved to put enhanced construction safety measures on the books. Intro. 1447-C mandated that construction workers receive up to 55 hours of safety training, and penalized contractors and developers who employ insufficiently trained workers.
As we reported then, the nearly omnipotent REBNY, tried everything within its power to kill the measure. REBNY President John Banks said at the time, "The first concern is simple: does New York City have the adequate capacity to train up to 120,000 nonunion construction workers? The answer to this question is just a simple — no."
Worker advocates hailed the measure, however, but ultimately stressed that more also needed to be done to save the lives of exploited New York City construction workers.
Following the passage of Intro. 1447, Manuel Castro, executive director of New Immigrant Community Empowerment [NICE], told LaborPress that employers must be held directly accountable for maintaining safety standards.
"That's a big part of the equation," Castro said. "And we believe that this is a start in holding these employers accountable. More can be done and we're going to be proposing more steps to be taken."
It's the start of 2019, and interfaith leaders and worker advocates continue to push for measures that will prevent more vulnerable construction workers from being killed and small businesses forced out.