It was for the sixth time that members of every segment of the construction industry in New York came together in recognition of those who have died on the job during the past year. Being the sixth of such observances, many things remained the same. Yet, there were some departures from the norm that bear noting.
The venue was once again St. Patrick’s Cathedral. This time, however, the location was more significant than ever, with the NYC BuildingTrades currently performing the cathedral’s restoration. The draped tarps and soaring scaffolding that broke the lines of its Gothic architecture, were a constant reminder that the beauty and form that is created in our industry is the result of hard work that is both dirty and dangerous. The occasional humming of distant drills that could be heard over the somewhat more ethereal tolling of the bells, drove home the reality of the pressures of scheduling in New York and how much effort is required by so many people to complete a project to that highly prized standard of “on time and under budget.”
Father Brian Jordan, Chaplain to the Building Trades was, as always, the celebrant of the Mass. And though he is always both forceful and eloquent in his remarks, his message was differently nuanced this year. While he has always been clear about the dignity of work and those who perform it, he has never been quite so insistent on our responsibility to “love one another.” That command may at first seem to be at odds with an industry such as ours, which so often seems to be brutal. But in truth, we can not allow that to be so. “ Labor is good,” said our beloved Franciscan, “because humans are good.” It is only when we recognize that fact that we truly appreciate the value of every human life and subsequently feel the tragedy of its loss.
Every year there is great solemnity and ritual involved, as is fitting under the circumstances. But this year saw the addition of a United States Marine Corps Color Guard. Their presence was to honor the passing of Michael McQuade of Dockbuilders Local1456. In the six years of Memorial Masses that have been held, Michael is the first remembered tradesman to have entered the Building Trades through the Helmets to Hardhats program. After having served 5 years active duty in the Marines, on February 17 th of this year he lost his life at work, leaving behind his wife and two children ages 9 and 5. So, his military, as well as his Building Trades comrades were there to pay tribute.
Another notable difference this year was that although labor and management have always laid their differences on the church steps and kneeled beside one another in the pews on this occasion, the deceased were always from the ranks of labor. That was not the case this year. Paul Schisler of Sciame Construction, a valued member of their management team, was also among the 17 fallen. His family’s grief is in no way lessened by the fact that there were no tools in his hands when he was taken from them.
And what were the most glaring differences of all? There were two reprehensible “firsts.” For the first time since the inception of this Mass, there were deceased workers with no family members to grieve them. These men were not without family who loved them. But their families stayed fearfully in the shadows because of their immigration status.
Also for the first time, a contractor could offer no information on their deceased employees. Two men, one Hispanic, one Polish, were killed on the job and no supervisor, no foreman had a record of a name, or a phone number, or a next of kin. When asked how this could be so, they replied; “They were only day laborers.”
One need not be a biblical scholar, nor even particularly religious, to know that the callous disregard for human life found in that reply is as far as one can get from answering the command: ” love one another.”
- Posted by admin
- On May 8, 2013
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