Non-union contractor caused Hard Rock Hotel collapse in RTW New Orleans

Hotel was being built by unlicensed, non-union workers

NON-UNION CONTRACTOR Citadel Builders LLC was building the Hard Rock Hotel in New Orleans, La., that collapsed Oct. 12, killing three workers. Louisiana is a “right-to-work” state. The IBEW and the Plumbers unions had been holding informational pickets outside of the hotel for weeks to inform residents of the danger of the project.

A non-union contractor in “right-to-work” Louisiana was responsible for the Oct. 12 collapse of the Hard Rock Hotel under construction in New Orleans, in yet another example of the harm “right-to-work” laws cause by driving down wages and encouraging the use of non-union contractors with poorly trained workers.

People on the street fled for their lives as part of the hotel collapsed onto the street. Three workers were killed and nearly 100 workers were trapped or injured in the structure. Thirty would end up going to the hospital. It took hours to locate and free the other workers.

As dust and debris covered multiple city blocks on the edge of the famed French Quarter, questions arose about how a building that was under construction could just collapse. According to Hard Rock, Citadel Builders LLC was contracted by Kailas Companies, owner of the project, to build the Hard Rock Hotel New Orleans.

Andy O’Brien, the Secretary Treasurer of the Southeast Louisiana Building and Construction Trades Council, told UCOMM News, the IBEW and the Plumbers union had been holding informational pickets outside of the hotel for weeks to inform residents of the danger of the project.

“Citadel is not a union contractor,” said O’Brien. “Whenever they show up, we aren’t far behind.”

Some of the issues the unions were concerned about included the use of non-licensed workers, hiring undocumented workers, and misclassifying employees on the project as independent contractors.

This isn’t Citadel’s first brush with the law. In August, the contractor pleaded no contest and agreed to pay a fine for using unlicensed contractors on their jobs. If the union’s intel is correct, it would appear that Citadel hasn’t learned from their fine and continued to use non-licensed workers.

“Our collective hearts go out to the workers and their families impacted by this horrible tragedy,” said O’Brien. “While our organization represents 16 unionized construction locals, we have always felt it is our higher responsibility to look out for, protect, and represent in any way possible all workers involved in construction in Southeast Louisiana.”

As the contractor and the city rushed to shore up the project, Union Ironworkers rushed in to help. According to Troy Bates, nine highly trained Ironworkers brought in a 500-ton hydraulic crane from Baton Rouge. Instead of letting the trained union workers do their job and use the crane to stabilize the building the contractor said he didn’t want any assistance from union hands. He kicked them off the job and let a non-skilled employee operate the crane.

With three workers dead and dozens injured the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) will be opening an investigation into what happened.

The Building Trades Council held a vigil Oct. 17 to remember those who died and to pray for the injured. They were joined by the Faith-Labor Alliance, Step Up Louisiana, and Congreso de Jornaleros, a day laborers organization.

(Information from UCOMM News Blog.)

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The deadly effects of ‘right-to-work’ laws

It’s well documented that “right-to-work” laws lower pay and benefits. What they also do, according to a study published in the medical journal BMJ, is increase the chance of dying on the job.

The study looked at the period from 1992 to 2016 and found that so-called “right-to-work” laws “have led to a 14.2 percent increase in occupational mortality through decreased unionization.” That’s roughly an extra 7,300 deaths, study author Michael Zoorob told Salon.

“These findings illustrate and quantify the protective effect of unions on workers’ safety. Policymakers should consider the potentially deleterious effects of anti-union legislation on occupational health,” the report’s conclusion stated.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the rate of workplace fatalities is 54 percent higher in “right-to-work” states.

“The implication is that this results in changes in workplace policies that increase occupational mortality,” Zoorob said.

“Right-to-work” laws allow nonmembers in a union shop to access the same benefits as dues-paying members, including representation for any grievances and salary increases negotiated by the union, but without paying any of the costs to win their benefits. Such laws have been passed in 27 states. Missouri voters turned back the Show-Me state’s “right-to-work” law twice, in 1978 and 2018.

“Unions give workers the freedom to speak up about hazards on the job without fear of retaliation,” said International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers President Lonnie R. Stephenson. “Right-to-work laws weaken our voice on the job, and that leads to unreported safety hazards and higher accident and death rates.”

Unions also invest considerable resources in training their members on safety. It’s an integral part of the Code of Excellence.

“The Code is a commitment between our members, many of who work in inherently dangerous jobs, and their employers to work together to achieve the highest standards of work performance and that includes safety,” Stephenson said. “And it works.”

In 2017, 5,147 workers lost their lives on the job as a result of traumatic injuries, according to fatality data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. While the number of deaths on the job has generally declined over the years, there has been an uptick since 2013 that has coincided with the increase in “right-to-work” states.

Add to that the deregulatory furor of the Trump administration and the risk or workplace injury and death has grown dramatically.

President Trump’s budget for the 2018 fiscal year included major cuts to worker safety and health. It called for eliminating safety training by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration as well as investigations into chemical accidents. The budget also proposed cutting research into improving job safety and coal mine inspections.

By underfunding OSHA, the AFL-CIO estimates that it would take 159 years for federal inspectors to inspect each workplace just once.

The Trump administration has also revoked a number of rules designed to protect working people. One required employers to maintain illness and injury records for at least five years. Now, it’s only six months. Another required federal contractors to comply with labor and civil rights laws and to report violations. The administration has also rolled back workplace exposure limits for 500 hazardous chemicals.

(Information from the IBEW and the AFL-CIO’s 2019 Death on the Job report.)

One Comment

  • Of the $315,000 in fines OSHA issued, half were assessed against the engineer. Fines against Citadel, about $28,000, had nothing to do with the actual cause of the collapse.


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