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Hundreds of unionized construction workers rallied outside of the Fulton Street offices of Joy Construction Thursday to memorialize six laborers who they said have died on the firm’s work sites since 2004.
Workers and organizers with Laborers’ Local 79, which represents 10,000 construction workers in New York City, led the rally and highlighted a contractor that they said only hires non-union labor, provides far lower wages than union job sites, and doesn’t offer health or retirement benefits.
Steven Polizzi, a construction worker who labored for a year on Joy Construction job sites before joining Laborers’ Local 79 as an apprentice, said Joy Construction viewed him as “just a number.”
“Joy Construction will work you to the bone and kick you to the curb when they're done with you,” Polizzi told The Chief, adding that he was paid near the minimum wage and didn’t receive health-care or retirement benefits while working for the contractor. He said that since he’s worked at union construction sites his wages have gone up, he has access to health and retirement benefits and he feels much safer on job sites. “If I don’t feel safe, I have people I can talk to that can either show me how to do it safely or scrap the project and redo it,” he said.
The rallying workers specifically called out Eli Weiss, the principal and director of development at Joy Construction since 2008. Weiss did not respond to several phone calls and emails. A front-desk employee at Joy Construction’s office said that the contractor had no comment on the rally or the accusations levied by the workers.
‘Responsible contracting and subsidy accountability’
The workers held a moment of silence and read the names of six workers that said were killed on Joy Construction job sites. One of them, Lindon Samuel, was an immigrant laborer from St. Croix in the U.S Virgin Islands who was killed in December 2022 when the bucket of an excavator struck him on the head at a construction site contracted to Joy Construction.
Samuel and his coworkers, according to the Daily News, were building a state-funded affordable housing development in the Bronx’s Tremont neighborhood.
Tafadar Sourov, an organizing field representative for Laborers’ Local 79, said Samuel’s case exposes how city and state governments empower firms like Joy Construction to skirt safety rules. “The problem is that [Joy Construction] continues to receive subsidies to build affordable housing and the workers are not getting just wages, they're not walking out of there with healthcare or retirement benefits,” Sourov said.
The site where Samuel perished was run by The Housing and Community Renewal, a state agency that contracted Joy Construction to build 154 affordable homes tailored for the homeless. Sourov said that if city and state officials are “responsible with its investments when it comes to generating housing and seriously thinks about responsible contracting and subsidy accountability, then we can have everything from just wages to safe job sites.”
The Housing and Community Renewal did not respond to a request for comment.
‘Acting in a criminal manner’
For years, Laborers’ Local 79 lobbied lawmakers to support Carlos’ Law, legislation eventually signed by Governor Kathy Hochul in December that increased fines levied on construction firms found responsible for a serious injury or death.
Sourov says his union is now pushing for the Construction Justice Act, which would establish a wage and benefits floor for affordable housing projects subsidized by the city or state. This, he hopes, would cut off firms like Joy Construction from city and state subsidies if they don’t offer wages and benefits considered just.
Carmen De La Rosa, chair of the City Council’s Committee on Civil Service and Labor, told the workers at Thursday’s rally that “Joy Construction is acting and has been acting in a criminal manner.”
Council Member Christopher Marte told the workers that he won’t vote to approve Joy Construction projects in his district, which encompasses much of lower Manhattan, including the location of the company’s Fulton Street offices.
Polizzi said that he’s found a great community of workers at Laborers’ Local 79, many of whom, like him, were previously incarcerated.
At Joy Construction, Polizzi said, factors like immigration status or parole requirements can keep workers from speaking up about unsafe working conditions or wage theft. Many formerly incarcerated individuals must remain employed as a condition of their parole, and undocumented workers typically don’t have access to health-care or unemployment benefits and could face legal consequences like deportation if their immigration status is revealed.
"Joy Construction definitely exploits the weaker members of our society, people coming home from jail, immigrants coming into the country looking to work hard and make a living for themselves,” Polizzi said, adding that as a Local 79 member, he no longer feels expendable. "You feel like you're not alone. Every day I want to wake up and be better, and these people in this union are all patting you on your back and showing you the way to go.”
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