July 2016

The New New York Bridge

Approximately 200 reinforcing ironworkers are working on the New New York Bridge, which is the replacement for the Governor Malcolm Wilson Tappan Zee Bridge.  This much needed addition to the New York infrastructure is a twin span bridge crossing the Hudson River and connecting South Nyack in Rockland County to the village of Tarrytown in Westchester County. The cost of the project is a staggering $3.9 billion. 

The reinforcing ironworkers at the site are a composite crew comprised of Local 46 (New York) and Local 417 (Newburgh, N.Y.) members, as well as boomers from Local 60 (Syracuse, N.Y.) and Local 440 (Utica, N.Y.), all receiving the Local 46 wages and fringe package as it is the most substantial. None of this would have been possible if it were not for the signing of a project labor agreement (PLA) before the start of construction in October 2013.

From the beginning, one of the chief goals of the project (in addition to replacing a prime example of crumbling infrastructure) was to create jobs in upstate New York. Unfortunately, the New York State Thruway Authority had plans to use nonunion workers from Schenectady and Buffalo to bend and fabricate all the rebar necessary to build the bridge. That option was totally unacceptable to the elected officials at Local 46, so they devised a strategy to make sure all the work was done by union labor. 

The first step was to assemble a team of respected and powerful labor leaders. Among them were Walter Wise, then general president of the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers; James Cahill, president of the New York State Building Trades; and Edward Doyle, president of the Westchester Building Trades. Working in conjunction with them, Business Manager Terry Moore and Business Agent John Coffey continued to apply pressure to the NYS Thruway Authority. In addition, Political Action Director John Skinner worked tirelessly to rally local politicians and garner their support for this intense campaign.

The culmination of these concerted efforts, spearheaded by Local 46, was a series of negotiations and finally a meeting with Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The governor, when faced with the firm resolve and united front the building trades are famous for, agreed to a PLA in which Local 46 and Local 417 would bend, fabricate and install all rebar on the bridge. 

The process begins, however, miles from the site of the bridge, in a small town in New Jersey. All the bending of rebar for the project, started in October 2013, has been done by Local 46 members working for Coastal Construction. The work takes place in a hanger provided by Gerdau Industries and is located in Perth Amboy, New Jersey. 

In addition to cutting and bending, our members also handle the fuse welding for every ring that goes on the caissons for the bridge. This welding is yet another component of the fabrication that was fought for and won by our elected officials. The New York State Thruway Authority and Tappan Zee Constructors initially didn’t think our members were qualified to perform the welding, and were opting to have the rings come in from the factory already welded. Business Agent John Coffey refused to accept that situation, and was successful in defending our jurisdiction on the work. 

Upon completion of the bending, the rebar is then loaded on to barges and shipped up to Tompkins Cove, New York in Rockland County. Upon fabrication, the columns are once again shipped by barge down to the bridge. With a strong workforce in the bending yard in New Jersey, the fabrication yard in Tompkins Cove, and on the bridge itself, the job remains on target by reaching its milestones on time and staying within budget. 

When this mammoth structure is completed on schedule in 2018, the total length of the project will have been five years, two and a half months. There will be a total of 964 piles, 951,000 cubic yards of dredging will have taken place, 110,000 tons of steel used and combined concrete weights of the substructure and super structure will total 550,000 tons. The bridge is estimated to be able to last more than a century before any major repair work is necessary. 

The campaign to win and keep all the work associated with this project union is a prime example of what we in the labor movement can accomplish when we stick together. Everyone, from the president of our International, to the apprentices on the bridge, have rolled up their sleeves to get this job done, and to make the building of the New New York Bridge a successful and profitable endeavor.