Families, labor group call for change at vigil for men killed in scaffolding collapse

Three men were killed in a construction accident in Charlotte last month.
Friends, family and fellow workers gathered to honor the lives lost during a Jan. 2 construction accident in Charlotte.
Published: Feb. 3, 2023 at 10:50 PM EST
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Friday night, three lives were honored in the city they helped build.

Just over a month after a fatal construction accident in Dilworth claimed the lives of Jose Canaca Bonilla, Gilberto Monico Fernandez, and Jesus “Chuy” Olivares, friends and family gathered to remember the men who died.

“I would like him to be remembered as kind, hard worker,” Jose’s uncle, Jorge, said. “Very funny guy, full of life.”

Friday night’s candle light vigil was also about sending a message that safety-related construction deaths are unacceptable.

“So many times it is preventable, so many times it is gross negligence that causes it,” Ashley Hawkins, President of the Charlotte Metro Line of Labor Council, said. “We just don’t ever want to hear that somebody doesn’t get to go home to their family because they lost their life at work.”

Hawkins also gave a very impassioned speech about the continued neglect she’s seen with regards to Latino construction workers in this city.

“Latino labor built this city, and Latinos are treated as if they are disposable,” Hawkins said. “There would be no Charlotte without the blood, sweat and tears of construction workers.”

The hope is that more visibility around the issue of safety on construction sites will prevent avoidable accidents like this one from happening again.

“If you see, 80 percent of the labor in these buildings are Latinos,” Bonilla said. “We are building America. We feel like we’re not being protected.”

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department and the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) are currently investigating the incident to determine what went wrong leading up to the fatal scaffolding collapse and what, if any, safety protocols weren’t properly followed.

According to Hawkins, these investigations can take as long as six months.

As the families wait for answers, they’re hoping that healing can take place in the wake of this tragedy.

“Hopefully we get some answers soon,” Bonilla said. “That would put our minds to ease and move forward with the help of God to help us to heal.”

Related: One month later, family remembers victim of construction accident