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Cleaning windows in New York City is a tough, thankless, and, quite frankly, terrifying job. The city saw that last week when window washers Juan Lopez and Juan Lizama found themselves trapped on a dangling scaffold outside the 68th floor of 1 World Trade Center. For more than 90 minutes, the two were suspended hundreds of feet in the air outside the tallest building in North America, to the horror of onlookers below, before they were rescued by members of the FDNY and Port Authority police department.
Window washing platform collapsing on 1 WTC bldg – just drove by pic.twitter.com/NZIsno6vNQ
— Zachary Prensky (@Zackfoot) November 12, 2014
— CBS Evening News (@CBSEveningNews) November 13, 2014
It was a terrifying sight, but both men were uninjured.
Given the danger inherent to the work of high-rise window washers, instances like this one aren’t uncommon. In 2011 alone, eight building cleaning workers were killed on the job, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Six of them were window washers. But this isn’t a new phenomenon, either. Window washing has a history of being a fatal occupation:
Pedro Ricardo Oblitas, 37, of Greenpoint, Brooklyn, who was cleaning decorative window mullions, died after stones and bricks struck him in the head and upper body. A co-worker, Augusto Malaspina, 25, was seriously injured by the debris. And Francia Lopez, 44, a garment center saleswoman from the Bronx, managed to push her 9-year-old daughter, Luissanna, out of the way before the falling bricks hit her back and leg.
The company that hired the workers, Supreme Building Maintenance, would later be sued for the faulty scaffolding.
From the New York Times:
After the accident, another family member who is also a window washer, Jose Cumbicos, said they had mentioned their misgivings in a telephone call that morning. Mr. Cumbicos also said that the Morenos’ supervisor had reassured them, saying a mechanical problem with their rig had been taken care of.
Even with worker’s compensation, the surviving Moreno’s hospital bill was expected to run into the millions. He settled a multimillion-dollar suit with the company that makes the scaffolding that broke in the accident. He and his family now live in Arizona.
From the Daily News:
“I thought he was dead,” said Genovese’s wife, Joann, who got a call from Nassau County police soon after the pair were hit with the 33,000-volt shock.
“I screamed and woke up my kids,” the 51-year-old said.
Genovese was taken to Nassau University Medical Center and treated for third-degree burns on his hands and feet.
“I’m just thankful he’s alive, and he’s fine,” said his wife, the mother of his two teenage daughters.
Why do people still do this dangerous work?[
Pic from a couple years ago. Falcon v. Window Washer! No falcons nor window washers harmed during this sequence. pic.twitter.com/mr9QW0PoFn
— Terminal Tower CLE (@TowerLightsCLE) March 19, 2013
“It’s a wonderful business,” Juan Lopez told CBS New York. “I would recommend it to anyone, as crazy as it sounds.”
Lopez, who along with Lizama is part of the Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ, says the reason he’s still alive is because of his rigorous union safety program — union window washers are required to complete 800 hours of training. And the numbers back him up. According to a union rep, more than 70 non-union window washers died on the job between 2008 and 1983; three unionized window washers died in that same time frame.
About 600 window washers are unionized in New York City. They receive full benefits and are paid as much as nearly $27 an hour.
Check out my interview with rescued WTC window washer Juan Lopez. He loves his job and, yes, he plans to go back soon. http://t.co/lcl1PSNaEF
— Sonia Rincon (@SoniaRincon) November 14, 2014
As for the window washers involved in last week’s ordeal? Lizama said if he were asked to return to 1 World Trade Center, he would — “tomorrow.” Lopez? Not so much. “There are a lot of ground-floor jobs” with the company, he said, “and I will probably do that.”