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Feb 11, 2009 10:37 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Demonstrators rally for worker safety

Feb 11, 2009 10:37 AM

About three dozen demonstrators gathered in Southampton Village on Sunday afternoon to rally for on-the-job safety for immigrant workers and to protest the death of Facundo Gonzalez, a construction worker who died January 5 after he was crushed by a collapsed foundation wall at a job site in the village.

The New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health planned the noontime rally and several organizations that advocate for workers’ and immigrants’ rights—such as the Organización Latino Americana of Eastern Long Island, the East Hampton Anti-Bias Task Force, Long Island Immigrant Alliance, the The Workplace Project and Jobs with Justice—co-sponsored the event.

“It’s a very simple message. Unless every worker can work safely, then no worker can work safely,” said Vivian Viloria-Fisher, deputy presiding officer of the Suffolk County Legislature. “We have to be certain that everyone who goes out to do a day’s work, who is a human being, is protected.”

Originally from the Dominican Republic and now living in Setauket, Ms. Viloria-Fisher was one of several speakers who addressed the demonstrators in both Spanish and English. The rally included an invocation by Jack King, co-chairman of the Southampton Town Anti-Bias Task Force and the pastor of Beach United Methodist Church in Westhampton Beach.

The protesters assembled in front of 232 North Sea Road, the site of the fatal accident, where a house that had been reduced to just a facade was undergoing a major renovation. After the accident, the Southampton Village Building Department ordered the foundation removed and now nothing remains of the house.

At the time of the accident, Mr. Gonzalez, 33, had been digging underneath the foundation wall so that footings—a structural support that should have been put in before the foundation was poured—could be installed, according to village officials. The wall fell and crushed him.

“This incident with Facundo Gonzalez reminds us that when people go to work, whether they’re immigrants or not, whether they are documented or not, they can get killed,” David Pratt, safety and health specialist for The New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health, told the demonstrators Sunday. “They can get seriously injured [and] not because they did something wrong.

“This is not the fault of Facundo Gonzalez,” Mr. Pratt continued. “This is the fault of the employer who failed to follow regulations and this is the fault of a political machine in our country that has gutted OSHA and other agencies that are empowered to protect people from needless death and injury.”

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, is the federal agency charged with guaranteeing a safe workplace.

“OSHA’s been gutted by a range of administrations, and it needs to be more fully funded,” Mr. Pratt said before addressing the protesters. “We need more inspectors, we need stronger regulations and real penalties. To be honest, OSHA has very weak penalties compared to the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] and other agencies. If it comes to it, employers who don’t follow the law need to pay a price.”

Originally from Hidalgo, Mexico, Mr. Gonzalez had been living for several years with his brother, Cecilio, and uncle, Benjamin, in Medford, according to the family’s attorney, Jay W. Dankner.

“He was regularly sending money to his mother and others in Mexico and supporting them,” the attorney said. He said the victim’s immigration status is still under investigation.

Mr. Dankner of the law firm Dankner & Milstein, which has offices in both New York City and Southampton, said his firm is now pursuing a wrongful-death lawsuit. The homeowner, Valerie Revere, the general contractor, Bérube & Son Construction, the subcontractor, Saldana’s Concrete Corporation, and the architect could all be named in the lawsuit, according to Mr. Dankner.

“They’re all viable defendants,” he said, noting that the lawsuit could be filed in as few as two months.

A pain and suffering lawsuit might follow, because there was evidence that Mr. Gonzalez was screaming in pain before he died, Mr. Danker said.

Alejandro Saldana of Saldana’s Concrete referred calls about the case to his attorney, William T. LaVelle of Patchogue. On Monday, Mr. LaVelle said he could not comment on the incident, or possible litigation, until the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office completes its criminal investigation of the accident.

Gaetan Bérube of Bérube & Son has not responded to several messages seeking comment since the accident, and Ms. Revere could not be reached.

“Just based upon the scant information we have now, there were obvious violations under the labor law,” Mr. Dankner said.

A stop-work order put on the construction site after the accident cited a “dangerous and unsafe condition,” failure to follow the architectural plan and failure to comply with New York State building code. The Southampton Village Building Department also issued summonses to Saldana’s and Bérube & Son for violating state building code.

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As the economy tanks, more jobs are lost and services are cut...that's when the real fun will begin. Looks like there is already organization...
By TheGoodLife (43), Westhampton Beach on Feb 8, 09 4:17 PM
Most are not Legal therefore they need their own countries to protect them. The US has no reason or place to protect illegal immigrants. That's the risk they take by doing things illegally.
By OrignialLocal (34), Southampton on Feb 11, 09 11:52 AM