The future of construction, unions and the New York City skyline post-9/11 was at the heart of a panel discussion Wednesday at The Cutting Room that was hosted by LaborPress and iHeartRadio’s news radio station WOR Live.
“Today’s event is significant because we have the opportunity to talk about 9/11 and the development of the construction industry not only as it rolls out currently, but also in the future,” said Neal Topel, publisher of LaborPress. “There are tremendous opportunities for people if they want to work with their hands. There are thousands of jobs available.”
Panelists in the discussion included Gary LaBarbera, president of the Building and the Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, John Murphy, international representative of the United Association of Plumbers and Pipe Fitters, Thomas Hill, senior vice president of Boston Properties and Mark Gregorio, president of the TEI Group. The interview was conducted by WOR’s Joe Bartlett.
“When the towers were struck and we knew it was an attack, most people in Lower Manhattan tried to vacate as the police, fire and EMS services were responding,” said LaBarbera about the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack. “What we know today, was that there were over 10,000 unionized construction workers that left other jobs in the city and went to that site that day.”
Putting aside any concerns about their own personal safety, constructions workers simply wanted to help on one of the most harrowing days in American history, said LaBarbera.
“The nature of that attack was very complicated in terms of the recovery efforts,” continued LaBarbera, who represents 100,000 union members. “You needed skilled engineers and laborers – many of the trades. Iron workers came in and cut steel, the Operating Engineers and grappling Teamsters removed the stuff.”
There was no coordination during the first few days, LaBarbera added. However, after a week in a half, Ground Zero was broken into four different quadrants with different construction managers that helped to formalize and systemize the process of clearing out the site of debris.
“That clean-up that was performed by our members was under budget and ahead of schedule with no serious injuries,” said LaBarbera. “We lost in the building trades 62 members that day, and today many of our members are suffering [from 9/11-related diseases], but I would tell you, if it were to happen again, God forbid, I am certain that the unionized construction industry would do the same thing again in the next disaster, tragedy or attack.”
During 9/11, Hill had a building near the World Trade Center that had to be evacuated.
“We had aircraft wreckage that set the roof on fire,” said Hill. “No one got hurt, everybody went home safe that day.”
After the terror attack, the TEI Group had to adopt the international building codes, according to Gregorio.
“I represent a specialty trade – the elevator construction business, and our guys are highly skilled in welding, burning and special certifications and we are portable around the country,” said Gregorio. “The international building codes require us to adopt new requirements for safety that were not there before.”
TEI has adopted the Fireman Service Emergency Access Elevator for buildings that it works on, said Gregorio.
“Picture an elevator that can work underwater and through fire,” he added.
TEI also started to work on Emergency Evacuation Elevators.
“This would be used to also evacuate people,” Gregorio said. “Those who work in a high-rise know there was a sign that said ‘in case of fire do not use elevator.’ Since 9/11, we now have a law that allows us to accommodate building catastrophes that we didn’t anticipate 40 and 50 years ago.”
Since that fateful day, more women and minorities are working in construction and helping to rebuild the Big Apple.
“There are $100 billion in construction projects in the next five to six years,” said LaBarbera. “There is going to be a tremendous amount of work and a tremendous amount of opportunity for people of color, women and for all minorities and underserved communities.”