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Faith and union leaders want developer to provide safer working conditions

Yaroslav Zhuk was working on a luxury rental building, a project of Noah Properties, when he was injured in a fall in December 2020. He died weeks later.

Dozens of construction workers and allies gather during a vigil and press conference outside The Avondale Luxury Residences in the Kilbourn Park neighborhood, Tuesday morning, Jan. 4, 2022, where construction worker Yaroslav Zhuk fell and sustained fatal spinal and head injuries during the building’s construction a year ago. Workers and union members, who said Zhuk did not have proper safety equipment at that time, called for safer working conditions.
Dozens of construction workers and their allies gather during a vigil and press conference outside The Avondale Luxury Residences in the Kilbourn Park neighborhood, Tuesday morning, Jan. 4, 2022, where construction worker Yaroslav Zhuk fell and sustained fatal spinal and head injuries during the building’s construction a year ago.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Faith and union leaders called for safer working conditions at a Northwest Side development where a bricklayer was fatally injured last year.

Yaroslav Zhuk fell while working on a luxury rental development being constructed by Noah Properties in December 2020. He was hospitalized, and died on Jan. 4, 2021.

Arise Chicago on Tuesday held a vigil in front of the completed development, at 4214 W. Belmont Ave., to honor Zhuk’s work and to urge Noah Properties to better protect workers.

“Yaroslav Zhuk, a 55-year-old immigrant from the Ukraine, died one year ago today while working on the construction of the building behind us, where basic safety equipment and protections were not provided,” said Rev. C.J. Hawking, executive director of Arise Chicago. “Mr. Zhuk did not even have a hard hat given to him.”

Dozens of union workers held signs demanding safe working conditions. “Workers deserve tomorrow,” was the slogan on one sign. A violinist played solemnly in remembrance of Zhuk’s life.

Rev. C.J. Hawking, executive director of Arise Chicago, was among those speaking at a vigil and press conference outside The Avondale Luxury Residences in the Kilbourn Park neighborhood, Tuesday morning, Jan. 4, 2022, where construction workers Yaroslav Zhuk sustained fatal injuries in a fall while laying bricks during the building’s construction a year ago.
Rev. C.J. Hawking, executive director of Arise Chicago, was among those speaking at a vigil and press conference outside The Avondale Luxury Residences in the Kilbourn Park neighborhood, Tuesday morning, Jan. 4, 2022, where construction workers Yaroslav Zhuk sustained fatal injuries in a fall while laying bricks during the building’s construction a year ago.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

“As faith leaders, we are here to mourn Mr. Zhuk’s life and to make sure that this does not happen to any more workers,” said Rev. Robert Jones of Mt. Carmel Missionary Baptist Church. “We call upon this company, Noah Properties, to provide a safe job site. As faith leaders we call upon all employers to honor the precious lives of their workers.”

The Cook County medical examiner’s office determined Zhuk died after accidentally falling 40 feet, headfirst, into a dumpster.

Zhuk was performing “overhand bricklaying” and standing on scaffolding that did not have proper guardrails along the open sides or on the ends, according to an inspection report from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The report also states: “The hazard was in plain view throughout the day from both inside and outside the jobsite.”

OSHA also determined there wasn’t “adequate means of fall protection” and the employer failed to notify the agency of Zhuk’s death.

Ultimately, the incident led to a $10,000 fine.

In a written statement, Bart Przyjemski, founder and CEO of Noah Properties, said his company, like “any other developer in Illinois, hires subcontractors and we rely on them to have proper training and safely equipment. ... Unfortunately, sometimes horrible accidents happen that are out of our control.”

Przyjemski said he believed the vigil was really intended to pressure his company to hire union workers. That ongoing pressure campaign, he said, has led to constant harassment and “is a very sad and counterproductive way of going about earning our business.”

Don Villar, secretary-treasurer of the Chicago Federation of Labor, blasted Noah Properties for not “doing the right thing” and taking responsibility for Zhuk’s “preventable” death.

The labor federation has an ownership stake in Sun-Times media.

“In the meantime, Noah Properties is going around building all these buildings like nothing happened,” Villar said. “Like [Zhuk] death doesn’t matter, but it does matter. It matters to all of us in the labor movement. It should matter to every worker in this city when a worker dies, when the death could’ve been prevented, and the company goes on their merry way and continues to profit.”