THE BRONX — A group of temporary workers, who called themselves the COVID-19 Bronx Care Morgue Crew, has been seeking tens of thousands of dollars in back pay for the dangerous, backbreaking work they did last Spring.
In late March, the surging number of COVID-19 victims at Bronx Care, formerly Bronx Lebanon Hospital, exceeded the capacity of the morgue at the hospital’s main campus on Grand Concourse. Bronx Care administrators reached out to MBL Construction, owned by Carmine Bossio.
“BronxCare maintains a listing of outside contractors that can be immediately retained and utilized in emergency situations,” said hospital spokesperson Erol Schneer. “MBL Construction is one of these contractors.”
The emergency was the hundreds of COVID-19 victims’ bodies, some literally piled on top of each other.
“The morgue itself was full. The hallways were full,” said one worker.
The temporary workers were needed to move the bodies from the morgue to refrigerated trailers. One was parked outside the hospital’s Grand Concourse morgue. Two additional trailers were brought to BronxCare’s Fulton campus, where bodies were transferred after the trailer at Grand Concourse became filled.
BronxCare contracted with MBL to organize and staff the operation to reduce the overcrowding of COVID-19 victims.
A spokesperson would not divulge how much money it paid MBL.
MBL then subcontracted with Rhythm of Life, owned by Lincoln Crane, a licensed funeral director. Crane, along with his wife Ana, also a licensed funeral director, were in charge of organizing the operation and hiring workers to move the bodies.
Ana says she had to raise the hourly pay rate from $40 to $75 before she found enough workers willing to take the job. Ana says Bossio approved the pay raise.
They hired 32 workers at first, but soon dropped that number to approximately 15 and then to nine after Bossio complained it was costing too much money.
It was difficult work , done in deplorable conditions.
“There were body fluids in a lot of places”, says Ana, the crew chief.
Many body bags had no names on the outside.
“So we had to go in to get the names off the tags on the wrist or the legs.”
The trailer outside the Grand Concourse location was completely filled with bodies.
“There was nowhere to walk”, said Ana. “We were insanely worried about getting ill”.
Bossio’s company sent $126,000 to Rhythm of Life from late March to mid May. However, it wasn’t enough. After the number of workers was cut to 5, the checks stopped coming altogether on May 8th.
“Carmine kept saying the hospital is not paying me,” Ana said. “The hospital said that’s not on us, it’s on Carmine.”
The hospital’s spokesperson says MBL was paid in full.
When my colleague, investigative reporter Mary Murphy, confronted Bossio, he claimed he knew nothing about the workers’ pay problems.
But not long after that denial, his company’s attorney offered to pay $63,000 to Rhythm of Life and the crew for back pay. They said it’s not nearly enough. They’ve hired an attorney and plan to sue for twice that amount.
In the meantime, the COVID-19 Bronx Care Morgue Crew has just started a GoFundMe page, hoping to raise $74,000 they say Bossio’s MBL Construction has owed them for five months.
As PIX11’s Mary Murphy investigated the crew’s conditions, PIX11’s Arnold Diaz worked to get full compensation for the crew members who did a job most people wouldn’t dare consider out of fear for their personal safety.