STATEN ISLAND ADVANCE
By Anna Sanders | email@example.com
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Clutching plastic electric candles and umbrellas, family and supporters of Delfino Velazquez stood in the rain in front of the old Dana Ford Lincoln car dealership in Travis to pay tribute and demand justice eight days after his death.
“Si se puede!” they chanted in Spanish, shaking damp cardboard signs. “No mas abuso laborar” one read — no more labor abuse.
The 43-year-old Velazquez, who was born in Mexico and had lived in the United States for more than 20 years, died on Nov. 28 during an non-permitted demolition of the dealership. He left behind a wife, four children and three grandchildren.
“He was a really good dad,” said Nayeli Velazquez, his 22-year-old daughter. “He really worked so hard because he was a good, hard worker.”
His other daughter, Monica Velazquez, 26, added, “He always wanted to work every day.”
Velazquez and three other workers were dismantling the dealership when the mezzanine collapsed and he became trapped under the debris, officials said. Velazquez’s employer, Formica Construction Inc., did not have a valid permit to work at the dealership, according to Buildings Department records.
The medical examiner determined that Velazquez was asphyxiated due to compression of rubble from the collapsed building. The other workers were unharmed after the cave-in.
Family members were reluctant to speak about the incident, which is now being probed by multiple agencies.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Avenel Office, the Buildings Department and local law enforcement have launched investigations into the collapse. Criminal charges are possible, a law enforcement source told the Advance.
The wasn’t the first time a worker for Formica Construction died on the job. In 2003, Lorenzo Pavia asphyxiated when a deep, unshored trench caved in on him and another worker.
One of the company’s owners, Ken Formica, admitted he knew the 12-to-15-foot deep trench he sent the workers into was not safe. He pleaded guilty to criminally negligent homicide in 2007 and was sentenced to 16 weekends in jail.
The company briefly had its license renewal denied by the Department of Consumer Affairs following Formica’s conviction, but a judge annulled the department’s ruling on appeal. Formica’s license was renewed in 2009, records show.
Pavia’s nephew, Miguel Pineda, said at Velazquez’s vigil that day laborers should not die at work and leave their families alone.
“Today we show our solidarity and we raise our voice together to say: Every life counts, every life is worthy,” Pineda said in Spanish. “And we must secure the protection of all workers who work to provide for their families.”
Pineda is also chair of the workers health and safety committee at El Centro, an immigrant advocacy group.
Luzdary Giraldo, a safety and health specialist at the New York Committee for Occupational Safety, said construction companies routinely exploit immigrant workers doing dangerous jobs.
“They know because of their immigration status that they’re afraid to speak up,” she said. “They also know Latino workers undertake the most dangerous job without questioning their rights.”