The now-collapsed property at 2136-38 Market Street, which was previously under demolition, was "an absolute recipe for disaster," according to Local 98 business manager John Dougherty.
He said he's been hearing rumblings about possible problems and safety violations at the site, whose demolition was being overseen by nonunion Northeast Philadelphia contractor Griffin-Campbell Construction, LLC.
"But this is deeper," Dougherty said Wednesday, calling the collapse – in which 14 people were injured and six killed – a "sad metaphor for the whole enforcement of the entire city's construction issues."
Overall, the observation and enforcement of construction safety standards in Philadelphia is crumbling, according to the union leader.
"It used to just be we weren't getting our taxes," he said.
"Now we're losing people."
Department of Licenses and Inspections Commissioner Carlton Williams said Wednesday afternoon that Griffin-Campbell had a valid demolition license and there were no recorded L&I violations associated with the project.
"Let me ask you a question," Dougherty retorted. "How many people have to die before L&I does something?"
He suspects that though there were no L&I violations recorded, there were likely plenty of 311 complaints logged.
If the city won't properly monitor the industry, Dougherty said, the state should step in.
"The state checks barbers out," he pointed out. "If you buy a hot dog on the corner, they have to make sure the person's licensed."
According to documents released by the city, though Griffin-Campbell was the primary contractor handling the demolition, Plato Marinakos, Jr. of the Plato Studio architectural firm was in February listed as the primary contact on the demolition permit application.
His capacity? Expediter.
As the title suggests, expediters are people with intimate knowledge of local zoning codes and permit processes and – for a fee – speed up the paperwork process for contractors who go on to actually complete the construction.
"I see it every day – expediters don't know what they're doing," Dougherty said flatly. "Could the expediter tell you if the walls were underpinned? Could the expediter tell you if a guy was licensed to run material on the job? Was the expediter on the job on a weekly basis, or did he just make a fee to pull a permit?"
He said even when violations are handed down, those who receive them rarely take them seriously.
"Maybe they should charge one of the expediters as a co-conspirator to manslaughter," he said.
Dougherty is calling for stepped-up L&I enforcement penalties.
"You've got the whole political environment screaming to take over Traffic Court," he said. "We should have a few politicians screaming to take over L&I and start putting some enforcement in it. The fines alone would pay for the enforcement, the taxes we would collect – and we would not lose people.
"The city has a responsibility here, too, today. That expediter has a responsibility today."