Building Trades

Operating Engineers Keep Buildings Standing Tall

August 4, 2014
By Marc Bussanich

New York, NY—They keep them standing tall by operating energy-efficient equipment that makes the city’s newer buildings some of the most energy efficient buildings in the world. We learned that first-hand when we interviewed on camera Kuba Brown, president of the International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 94, at the union’s training center on Manhattan’s West Side. 

Some of that equipment that almost 6,000 members of Local 94 operate on site includes steam traps, pre-piped PRV stations and electrical meters.

Steam traps play a very important role in a skyscraper’s overall energy efficiency, according to Brown.

“Steam traps are very important to a building because the proper use of a steam trap reduces the cost of steam by not wasting steam blowing out to the street and sewer.”

In the accompanying video, we interviewed Brown standing between and among motor graders, boiler parts and generators. He entered the trade 44 years ago when operating engineers were perceived as high-priced janitors, but because of technological changes Local 94 members today work as technicians and skilled craftsmen.

The buildings that comprised New York City’s skyline in the 1970s are very different from the new construction of skyscrapers going up today in terms of conserving light, energy and gas.

“The buildings [today] are more environmentally friendly, and unlike years ago Local 94 members today are an asset because we operate, maintain and keep new equipment running to peak efficiency. Running a more efficient building, while following the sun load of the building all affects the operation,” said Brown.

Local 94 members work in a variety of buildings throughout the city, from the almost-completed One World Trade Center, the Empire State Building and the upcoming massive Hudson Yards project on the West Side.

“We work with every major real estate owner in the city and every major managing agent. We deal with the Rudin’s, Durst family, the Silversteins, the Tishmans and on the managing side we deal with Cushman & Wakefield, Jones Lang LaSalle and CBRE,” Kuba said.

For the more than 70 years that the union has been around relations with the real estate owners have been stable; the last strike action by the union was in 1978.

“I believe we’ve always had a great relationship for the time we’ve been in existence. I think the major turning point came back in 1978 when there was a major labor action but I think both parties realized that we have to work together to make this city work,” said Kuba.

He noted that the joint partnership between labor and management has had great rewards for everybody, including the local, the membership and the real estate owners.

“We work together as partners. We understand the needs and operation of the buildings, and we understand how the market goes up and down. We don’t bite the hand that feeds us and I think the other side of the table doesn’t smack the animal in the face that takes care of their properties,” Kuba said.

A lot of changes have happened since Brown entered the field in the early ‘70s. We asked him what kinds of changes does he foresee over the next 10 years in the industry.

“What I see in our industry [is that] the relationships that Local 94 has with the owners [it] will continue to grow and we will make this a more environmentally-friendly and energy-efficient city in the world,” said Kuba.   

@marcbuss marc@laborpress.org

 

August 1, 2014

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