By Marc Bussanich
New York, NY—James Cahill’s career with the New York Building Trades goes back to 1968 when he started as an apprentice with New York City’s Steamfitters Local 638. He’s now the president of the New York State Building & Construction Trades, representing over 200,000 tradesmen and tradeswomen. While the union was able to secure a project labor agreement to build the new Tappan Zee Bridge, Cahill believes that PLAs around the state could be improved.
Overall he’s happy with the $142 billion N.Y. State budget that just passed because it provides for prevailing wage rates on different state-funded projects. But securing a PLA for the new Tappan Zee Bridge was a priority.
“We successfully negotiated that PLA, which is the largest in the country. It guarantees work for our members in the Westchester and Rockland County Building Trades. And there is a staging area near Albany where the Capital Region Building Trades are fabricating the bridge and earning the same wages as the Westchester and Rockland County Trades,” said Cahill.
Another important project where the Building Trades secured a PLA is the Global Foundries chip manufacturing plant near Saratoga, NY. The Middle Eastern government of Abu Dhabi owns the company. According to a January 3, 2014 report in the Albany Business Review, the company is investing about $8.5 billion in the plant, which employs over 2,000 people. New York forsook $2.4 billion in taxes to lure the company to the Capital Region, but according to the story the company has plans to build a second, larger chip manufacturing plant. According to Cahill, that work has provided 4,000 jobs for his members.
Another focus for the union, says Cahill, is making sure that any projects awarded by local Industrial Development Agencies (a public-benefit corporation that works with companies to locate or expand) include provisions for creating and/or expanding apprenticeship programs so that local residents have the opportunity to learn a specific trade.
While the New York City Building Trades are doing well, and the Buffalo region is improving, Cahill noted that the Southern Tier of the state remains a weak spot for the building trades because the state has banned fracking, the controversial process to extract natural gas and oil from rock that lies deep underground.
Cahill was in favor of the process because he believes that based on Pennsylvania’s experience, which allows fracking, maybe upwards of 20,000 jobs could have been created for his members.
“There would also have been a boost to manufacturing if fracking were allowed because low energy costs would have attracted more manufacturers,” Cahill said.
Looking back at 47 years with the New York Building Trades, Cahill said it’s been a great honor to represent a highly skilled workforce.