Editor’s Note: On Thursday, November 12, LaborPress and Emblem Health bring you the first half of the 9th Annual LaborPress Heroes of Labor Awards. The virtual event beginning at 2 p.m. will feature a timely discussion with union leaders in the property service worker industry featuring IUOE Local 94’s Kuba Brown, 32BJ’s Shirley Aldebol, IUOE Local 891’s Robert Troeller and IUOE Local 30’s William Lynn. Click here to register for the event.
New York, NY – Essential workers come from all different types of professions and industries. Some, like the engineers and mechanics of International Union of Operating Engineers [IUOE] Local 30 —responsible for maintaining the power at more than 5,000 facilities in New York and Connecticut — remain behind the scenes.
“We work in the boiler rooms, the chiller rooms, we work in power plants and all of the city-owned facilities,” — William Lynn, Local 30 business manager, financial secretary and IUOE vice president — tells LaborPress.
Local 30 also helps power New York City Health & Hospitals, the City University of New York [CUNY] system and many mayoral agencies.
“Our guys are keeping the infrastructure running throughout the city during this pandemic,” says Lynn.
Communication has been key in protecting Local 30 union members scattered in various locations and job sites throughout the city from the coronavirus, according to the business manager.
“We have been rolling with the punches,” says Lynn. “Our shop stewards have been in constant contact with our business agents in our office here, and if there is any [Personal Protective Equipment] issues they let us know right away.”
IUOE Local 30’s New York headquarters is in Queens and it has a second headquarters in North Stonington, Connecticut.
While employers at job sites were having back-and-forth conversations about whether or not PPE was necessary during the early stages of the pandemic — Lynn learned from an associate who had direct contact with a PPE supplier about how to get the equipment his workers needed. Within two weeks after New York City shut down on March 15, the union was able to allocate resources for its members.
“We were able to secure some PPE for ourselves, along with our international and hand them out to some of the job sites to handle the safety of our members,” says Lynn. “All of the issues were addressed with the employers, but I wasn’t going to wait to finish an argument to protect our workers. We had to be proactive and make sure they were safe because a lot of people will think that our workers are not frontline since we are not in the public so much. But we are the ones making sure that those frontline workers are able to perform their work. For instance, the doctors and nurses — we make sure their hospitals are up and running.”
While the city was trying to make sure doctors and nurses had everything they needed, and putting up temporary testing facilities for the coronavirus, Lynn had to make sure his union members were safe in those virus hotspots.
“We had members at Elmhurst Hospital. At the time, reporters stationed at Elmhurst were saying, ‘This is the epicenter for the pandemic’ — so we were concerned about that,” says Lynn. “We had Local 30 members that were working at the temporary testing facilities making sure that those places were up and running correctly.”
While many industries have been able to allow their employees to work from home — Local 30 members had to report to their job sites. Some shift adjustments had to be made, however.
“There were shift changes to make at the airports,” says Lynn. “Unfortunately, the airline industry has been hit very hard so we were able to work with our employers there to adjust shift schedules to avoid layoffs. We were able to do that at a couple of sites.”
IUOE Local 30 still experienced layoffs. Fortunately, union members have transferrable skills that can be utilized at multiple worksites, especially at hospitals that have been running non-stop since the coronavirus made its way to the United States back in January.
“We had workers that were in the entertainment industry, like the Broadway theaters, sports venues like Madison Square Gardens was hit very hard,” Lynn says. “There was Barclays Center, Yankee Stadium, Citi Field and Nassau Coliseum shuttered,” Lynn says. “Fortunately, our members can transfer their skillset. At Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut, we had 200 workers, then the casino was shuttered for a little while. Now, we have more than half back to work, but we still have quite a few that are in that area waiting to get back to work.”
Lynn is concerned about a second-wave of the virus, but has been reminding his union members to stay diligent and stay cautious. He hopes partisan leaders in government will step up for workers.
“I’m hoping that the experts — the scientists — are working diligently to provide a vaccine,” Lynn says. “But I’m a little less optimistic that our leadership in our country is looking out for our working men and women. I think their view is skewed on what is important. I would hope that a relief bill is formulated sooner rather than later.”