Municipal Government

An Ironworker Remembers

September 12, 2011
Bendix Anderson

One World Trade Center Rises Anew

Within a few months, the tallest building in the U.S. will rise at One World Trade Center. At press time, a half-dozen construction cranes towered over the 16-acre site as four towers, World Trade Center One, Two, Three and Four, stretched towards the sky. Thousands of workers crowded onto the site in shifts, performing a complicated dance of Ironworkers, laborers, bricklayers and other trades.

“I look at it and think of the phoenix, up from the ashes,” said Robert Ledwith, business manager of Metallic Lathers and Reinforcing Ironworkers Local 46.

Ledwith has a long relationship with the World Trade Center. He helped build the original Twin Towers that were destroyed in the terror attacks of September 11, 2001. Thousands of workers from his union volunteered in the rescue effort, braving toxic dust and debris in the search for survivors. At press time, hundreds of ironworkers from his union are still at work at the site, cutting and bending steel rods to strengthen new concrete columns.

Four decades ago, Ledwith worked as an Ironworker on the foundations and high up on the 107th floor of the World Trade Center as the Twin Towers rose over Manhattan.

When the World Trade Center collapsed, workers in the construction trades across the City put down their tools and rushed to the site. In the days right afterward, workers gathered at their union halls and headed in groups to the smoldering ruin of the World Trade Center. On September 12, ironworkers from Local 46 convinced an MTA bus driver to change his route, traveling back and forth from their union hall at 3rd Avenue and 76th Street to the World Trade Center.

“It was one of those moments when everyone pulled together,” said Ledwith. Many of volunteers who worked at the site have since become sick. Ledwith made his workers take whatever precautions they could to avoid breathing in toxins. “I would warn them about the asbestos,” he said.

Hope quickly faded that more survivors would be pulled from the rubble. The rescue workers and volunteers left the site and construction managers arrived on the scene, leading teams in what became a massive demolition job. Workers from each specialty removed the wreckage of work done by the same specialty decades before. About 30 members of Local 46 cut tangles of twisted steel rebar that had once reinforced massive concrete floor beams. Ornamental ironworkers from Local 580 pried off metal panels from the exterior walls. Workers from Local 40 removed the huge beams of structural steel from the collapsed walls and stairwells of the Towers.

“For cleaning up the debris, you needed true experts who understood the structural steel,” said Ledwith.

The work continued for years while politicians, planners and the owners of the site fought over the shape that new World Trade Center would take, delays that became more painful as the nation slipped into a deep recession. But since the financial collapse of 2008, a project labor agreement with developer Larry Silverstein and a gradually improving market for office space helped secure the funding to speed construction at the site.

At press time, with the 10th anniversary of September 11th just a month away, more than 4,000 workers swarmed over the site. The memorial at the World Trade Center is on schedule to open in time for the anniversary and One World Trade Center is well on the way to its planned height of 1776 feet tall.

“Our blood and our sweat are in those buildings,” said Ledwith.

September 12, 2011

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