Sunday, April 08, 2012
The construction worker in the dust-covered boots and blue jeans stood on the sidewalk outside the W. 34th St. crime scene and stated a grim truth.
“It isn’t the first time I’ve seen it,” he said in a somber, gravely voice. “It won’t be the last.”
He was, of course, talking about the Tuesday night accident that killed co-worker Michael Simermeyer. The 31-year laborer was fatally injured when a towering crane crashed to the ground.
Simermeyer was part of a crew building the main entrance for a new No. 7 line subway station at 34th St. and 11th Ave. It will be the only station for the route extension, which will link Times Square and the far West Side.
“I’ve been in this business 31 years,” said the construction worker outside the work-zone that’s gated and surrounded by plywood walls. “I’ve seen a lot of guys hurt. I’ve seen it all, buddy.”
His helmet was battle-scarred and plastered with stickers from other jobs. Equipment manufacturers pitching their wares hand them out on construction projects, he shrugged.
Front and center, most prominently displayed on the helmet, however, was a Excavators Union Local 731 decal.
“I’m a union man,” he said with pride.
It’s common for unions to be disparaged by everyday people who have never been in one and who, at most, risk getting a paper cut at work. Unions are what’s killing this country, they believe. The wages are excessive, the work rules inefficient, they say. Oh, and they’re all corrupt, goes the thinking.
At least five different agencies are investigating the collapse of the 170-foot crane. Whatever the outcome, it’s worth remembering why unions came about in the first place – to be a counterbalance to employers driven more by bigger profits than the safety and well being of workers. The bottom line always matters more than the grunts laying concrete, welding steel and blasting hard rock.
There’s no doubt that some union leaders are dirtier than dirt. The economy took a nosedive. Budgets have unprecedented gaps. But that doesn’t lessen the need for unions unless you’re living in a fairy tale.
Simermeyer’s death may not be a crime in the sense that someone deserves a jail sentence for gross negligence or recklessness. It’s a crime nonetheless anytime someone so young is taken from friends and family.
Time passes. The construction site was eerily silent Friday afternoon. It soon will come back to life. In about three years, transit executives and elected officials will cut a ribbon here. Riders will stream in and out of the station at this corner.
They won’t know about the young man from New Jersey who lost his life. If they did, they’ll probably have forgotten it along with countless other big-city stories.
The MTA and City Hall could honor his sacrifice by placing a small small memorial in the station. Maybe a bronze hardhat with the 731 on the front.