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Hard hat memorial: Construction workers remembered during annual mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral

With their hardhats on, construction workers watched the mass.
Photo by Dean Moses

New York City is thanking the hard hat heroes who paid the ultimate price over the past year, either through a job site accident or due to COVID-19.

The Big Apple would not be the towering forest of skyscrapers it is today without construction workers. These men and women built the apartments New Yorkers live in and the offices they work in, but the profession is a dangerous one.

For International Workers Memorial Day 2020-2021, 16 construction workers, or hardhats, perished due to on-site-related accidents. Fourteen of these untimely deaths occurred within non-union positions while two were that of the unionized workforce.

In an effort to both thank and memorialize those lost, the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York and St. Patrick’s Cathedral held their 13th annual hardhat memorial service on Wednesday afternoon.

Lowering their hats, workers paid their final respects. Photo by Dean Moses

St. Patrick’s Cathedral usually has a rule to remove hats and headgear upon entering the religious site; however, hundreds of workers arrived at the iconic house of worship, still wearing their hard hats as a sign of respect. The priests also donned these hard hats as a symbol of solidarity.

Inside the gigantic cathedral, 17 chairs sat atop the pulpit steps, each one holding a safety helmet. While 16 of them were inscribed with the name of the deceased, a center most helmet was included to honor the lives of the essential workers who succumbed to COVID-19. 

Gary LaBarbera, president of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, shared while this event is normally held on April 28 during Workers Memorial Day it was rescheduled due to restrictions.

Now, on the first day COVID-19 restrictions have lifted and masks could be left behind, LaBarbera and his colleagues and their families are able remember those who perished from work-related accidents.

Hard hats on chairs represented the lives lost. Photo by Dean Moses
17 hats in total were accompanied by roses. Photo by Dean Moses

“Today we are having a memorial mass for workers in the construction industry that have died on the job. We’ve been doing this every year for over a decade and we are out here today to remember them, honor their memories, and the importance of this is that construction is a very dangerous industry, and unfortunately every year we lose people,” LaBarbera said. “We treat all lives the same. The unionized construction industry comes together and honors and remembers all construction workers who’ve lost their lives. It’s an important day for all of us.”

Safety has been an ongoing discussion amongst construction unions and workers for decades, and while improvements have been made there is still several dangers to the position.  LaBarbera stated that in many of the accidents, 14 of those deaths were at non-union jobs.

“What’s important is to recognize that construction workers’ lives matter, it’s a very dangerous industry. This industry has to continue to focus on safety and prioritize on all sites,” LaBarbera said.

Gary LaBarbera, President of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York pays his respects by hanging his hat on the pew. Photo by Dean Moses

The Mass was a somber ceremony, during which Father Brian Jordan underscored the main causes of accidental death at a construction site: electrocution, struck by an object, falling, and trapped in between construction objects.

“Sanity, safety, spirituality, and solidarity. These are four precious powerful words that truly transcend what today is all about on hard hat workers memorial mass,” Jordan said.

Over the past 15 months of quarantining, social distancing, and dealing with the onslaught of the novel coronavirus, construction workers were on the front lines not being able to work remotely. While New York City was at the epicenter, construction workers still had to work.

Father Brian Jordan. Photo by Dean Moses

“Designing and redesigning making all things new,” he said, adding, “Construction workers 24-7 go out to go to work. Their work is good.”

Every borough was affected by the deaths of construction workers, of the 16 who died, six workers were from Manhattan, six were from Brooklyn, two from Queens, and one each from the Bronx and Staten Island.

It was a full house. Photo by Dean Moses

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