Rash of NYC Construction Accidents Prompts Workers to Hold Memorial

April 30, 2008

Thousands gathered at St. Patrick’s Cathedral for a Mass organized by New York City construction workers to remember more than two dozen of their colleagues killed on the job in the past year.

The memorial comes barely a week after another serious accident, a shakeup of the city’s buildings department and a city-wide review of construction safety regulations.

Workers, some who came straight from the job dressed in work boots and jeans, were joined by family members of some of the 26 union and nonunion workers killed in the past year.

Several times the workers raised their hats to nine chairs, each with a different colored hard hat and roses or daffodils on the seats. Eight referred to the union construction workers who lost their lives since last April, while the ninth represented the 18 who died in nonunion jobs, Jordan said.

Bells rang as labor officials recited the names of those killed. The dead include six of seven victims of the March 15 crane collapse, a window washer who fell off a Manhattan skyscraper and a man who plunged 40 stories to his death off a Donald Trump tower.

A Florida tourist was also killed in the crane collapse.

“They didn’t die in vain,” said Father Brian Jordan, who served as a chaplain at ground zero. “They upheld the dignity of human labor.”

The ceremony was on Workers Memorial Day, which is held annually to commemorate the 1970 Occupational Safety and Health Act. But city construction workers have not held a Mass this large before and many said the crane collapse called greater attention to the high risks of their industry.

“I went to three funerals in a week” after the collapse, said Ralph DiDonato, a senior superintendent at Bovis Lend Lease. “Construction workers are the tightest crew when it comes for caring for people.”

The number of deaths cited at the service does not match the city Buildings Department, which also lists non-construction worker deaths and has said fewer people have died: 13 this year, 12 last year.

Organizers could not immediately explain the discrepancy, although federal agencies compile different data for construction-related deaths, sometimes using criteria that include a wider range of projects.

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