On April 30, 2021, a worker toiling on the restoration of Amsterdam NYCHA Houses, a public housing complex on the Upper West Side, fell 30 feet to the ground after stepping on the rotten scaffolding plank. The worker was taken to St. Luke’s Hospital after the fall. The current condition of the worker is not publicly known even though the accident took place on a City owned property.
The contractor in charge of the project, Pizzarotti LLC, failed to demonstrate it provided the worker with adequate training, according to the Department of Buildings incident report. It also failed to promptly notify the Department of Buildings of the incident, and is not registered either on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) website despite that employers are legally mandated to report all severe work-related injuries.
With less than seven years in New York City, Pizzarotti faces at least three lawsuits over flawed construction and failing deadlines. The company has also been accused of wage theft by 49 workers, according to court documents and federal records obtained by Documented.
Despite this record, NYCHA did not vet Pizzarotti for the restoration of Amsterdam Houses as the company participates as a subcontractor on the project. Workers have paid the price.
NYCHA is supposed to approve subcontractors used by companies who win city contracts, according to the Project Labor Agreement, which has been in effect since 2015 and applies to all contracts exceeding $250,000.
Five workers have been injured while working on Amsterdam Houses since 2021, making Pizzarotti the contractor with the most injured workers on NYCHA properties in the last 13 months, according to data from the Department of Buildings. Navillus Tile Inc, a pre-qualified vendor of the city government had three incidents. But while Navillus worked on ten different NYCHA contracts worth $496 million throughout 2021, Pizzarotti worked on a single project of $43.2 million.
Since July 2020, the company has been summoned for 31 safety violations and fined over $170,000 during its work on four of the 13 buildings of the Amsterdam NYCHA Houses. All of the fines remain unpaid.
Pizzarotti participated in the renovation of Amsterdam Houses after the firm who originally obtained the contract, Intercontinental Construction Contracting Incorporated (ICCI), defaulted “due to scheduling and workmanship,” Rochel Leah Goldblatt, NYCHA’s deputy press secretary, wrote in an email to Documented. Then, “the surety, Hudson Insurance Group (HIG), hired Pizzarotti as a completion contractor,” she added. “HIG is a bonding company and is responsible for and has the contract with Pizzarotti.”
Lisa Strasser, vice president and spokesperson of HIG, disagreed: ”Hudson Insurance Group did not hire Pizzarotti and is not responsible for their work.” In an email to Documented, she added: “NYCHA retained Pizzarotti as the completion contractor for this project.”
Pizzarotti did not reply to a request for comment. The company has neither completed the renovation despite the fact that NYCHA promised the Amsterdam Houses residents that the restoration would be over by December 2021. As of February 1, the work was still ongoing.
A subcontractor without a contract
For the April 30 incident, the Department of Buildings issued four violation summonses to Pizzarotti and three to Advanced Construction, a scaffolding company that was fined $30,084. The violations included hiring an unqualified worker without proper certification, neglecting to notify the Department of Buildings of the accident, and failing to properly inspect the scaffold and maintain safety measures.
Neither of the companies showed up at the hearings at the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings last July, but Advanced Constructions code violations were resolved after it paid the fines and presented a certificate of correction of the failures that led to the accident. Conversely, Pizzarotti’s violations are marked as “no-compliance recorded.”
At the hearing about the summonses on January 27, Kevin Danielson, an attorney for Pizzarotti requested an adjournment of the hearing. The company was “disputing the facts” stated in the reports, which were “vaguely written,” Danielson said.
The new hearing is scheduled for May 12, 2022, when Pizzarotti’s legal representative will cross-examine the inspector who wrote the violation report, explained Oliva Pedere-Branch, a Hearing Officer for the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings. That will be more than a year after the accident took place.
So far, no personal information of the injured worker on April 30 is publicly known as there have been no hearings about the safety violations.
The state Department of Labor was mandated by law to create a public registry of construction workers’ fatalities updated in real-time within a year from February 16, 2021, but as of February 1, the agency has not implemented it. A state Labor Department spokesperson declined to give an estimate as to when the registry will be active.
Pizzarotti — an open-shop company that employs nonunion labor — is not an approved NYCHA contractor or subcontractor, according to the agency’s public lists. The company has been working on the Amsterdam Houses since at least 2020 due to the contract NYCHA awarded ICCI in June 2014, before the labor agreement of 2015.
According to NYCHA’s records, the awarded contract will end in May 2022. As of February 1, $37.7 million has been paid.
Pizzarotti and their not so stellar record
Pizzarotti is an offshoot of the Italian construction company Impresa Pizzarotti, founded in 1910 with a presence in more than 20 countries. The company entered New York through a partnership with IBC Business Group in 2015 and held the name Pizzarotti IBC before the owners of the companies parted ways after a legal dispute, according to court documents.
Pizzarotti has been replaced at least three times as a contractor in construction projects in New York, according to The Real Deal, a news website covering real estate in the City. Court records show that the company has also faced at least two lawsuits in which real estate developers accused it of faulty construction and inability to meet deadlines.
The most controversial of the company’s projects was the South Street Seaport condo at 161 Maiden Lane, a 58-story tower that at some point was misaligned and leaned to the north, according to court documents. According to a lawsuit filed by the developer Fortis Property Group, Pizzarotti was responsible as the general contractor for 13 stop-work orders issued by the Department of Buildings for safety violations.
During the tower’s construction, a worker named Juan Chonillo, who was an undocumented immigrant from Ecuador, fell to his death, triggering a criminal investigation. The subcontractor SSC High Rise, hired by Pizzarotti, was found criminally liable for the fatality — the second instance in Manhattan’s modern history in which a company was convicted for the death of a worker in a construction site.
While working on the Amsterdam Houses, Pizzarotti has not only been penalized by the Department of Buildings for safety violations but also by OSHA, which imposed two fines on August 5, 2021, for a total of $16,384. The heftiest of the penalties referred to the company’s failure to have fall protections in place.
Pizzarotti also has a track record of failing to notify the Department of Buildings of the accidents on its projects, as mandated by Local Law 78. All of the five accidents on the Amsterdam Houses are absent from these public records since they were not reported, a Department of Buildings official told Documented. These omissions carry financial penalties.
From a worker’s perspective, working in a Pizzarotti project is risky in more than one way. Pizzarotti stole $297,035.85 from 10 workers who accused the contractor of wage theft in construction projects, according to federal and state data obtained by Documented.
The last publicly known complaint was filed in April 2019 in the Southern District of New York. Andy Gil and Rafael Hernandez, together with 39 opt-in plaintiffs, filed a class-action lawsuit demanding unpaid overtime after working between 40 and 70 hours each workweek in Pizzarotti’s Jardim Project at West 27 Street in Manhattan from March 2018 to March 2019. Plaintiffs estimate that the putative class contains approximately 200 workers.
Advocates have stated that both the state and the city of New York should grant contracts only to responsible vendors. “It is impossible for NYCHA to care about residents when systematically they allow for substandard subcontractors to get contracts for construction,” said Louis Flores, a core member of Fight for NYCHA, a grassroots organization advocating for public housing residents in the City. “This goes to show you that the biggest problem with NYCHA is a failure of oversight.”
The New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH), a workers’ rights organization that publishes comprehensive reports on construction fatalities, has asked that government agencies should mandate their contractors to offer prevailing wages and adequate training. Agencies should also prevent “bad actors” —contractors with a poor safety record, accused of wage theft — from receiving public funds, they demanded.
“The City and State should ensure that developers receiving subsidies do not hire subcontractors who have had egregious violations,” the organization said in a statement.
These guidelines may have avoided that a company such as Pizzarotti restored the Amsterdam Houses and, probably, they had also avoided a life-changing accident from happening.