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September 28, 2001

Michigan laborer brings home news of Ground Zero 'The union construction presence was awesome'

Construction union members weigh in with skills, equipment to aid New York

Hardhats' work now in session at Michigan's Hall of Justice

'Buy union now' website up and running

Three Towers now a union-signatory contractor

NEWS BRIEFS

 

Michigan laborer brings home news of Ground Zero 'The union construction presence was awesome'

By Marty Mulcahy
Editor

The entire nation watched with horror as the events unfolded on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. For David Nadeau, the terrorist attacks were a call to action.

Nadeau, 41, a member of Laborers Local 334, works for Aristeo Construction, where he is a safety coordinator for the company. He also works as a volunteer firefighter and an emergency medical technician for the Charter Township of Monroe.

A Marine for six years, he put a hold on his regular life from Wednesday, Sept. 13 through Sunday, Sept. 16, to go to New York and help out with the search and rescue effort at the site of the collapsed World Trade Center towers. When he returned to Monroe, he was bone-weary, realized how much he missed his family, and was saddened and angered by what he saw in the rubble.

At the urging of a co-worker, laborer superintendent Wally Mack at the Ford Wixom plant, David contacted our office last week and said he had some photos of the site and a story to tell. Here is his story:

"I knew I had to go…"

"I was working at the Wixom plant, and we heard about the first plane going into the World Trade Center, so we turned on a TV. Then we saw the plane go into the second building. I knew I had to do something. Six years in the Marine Corps had a lot to do with that. Marines get their people out no matter what, and so do firefighters. You never ever forget that. I knew I had to go."

At home that evening, David watched television until 1 a.m. to find a telephone number to call to offer his help, and the next morning he was called back and told his services could be used. He told his safety director at Aristeo, Tom Stevenson, about his plan to go to New York, who in turn contacted company owner Joe Aristeo. Aristeo said if Nadeau went to New York, the company would continue to pay his wages. "That was really nice of him, he didn't have to do that," Nadeau said.

Nadeau said it was difficult to leave his girlfriend and two sons, who are five and six. He and fellow Monroe firefighter Bruce Broman took their firefighting gear and headed to New York in Nadeau's Ford F-150. On the way they met up with a sheriff's canine unit from Jackson, and they followed each other. They arrived in the Big Apple about 8:30 Wednesday night.

Into New York.

"Once we crossed the George Washington Bridge, we went through different police blockades and told them who we were and that we had a cadaver dog," Nadeau said. "They sent us down about five blocks to the Port Authority police. We put on our gear, and we started walking to Ground Zero."

There they found a New York Fire Department lieutenant who was looking for EMTs. They went to the nearby American Express building, "where we started digging around a bit, and found a body part, David said. "That was the start." They brought in buckets of debris to a receiving area, where the volunteers found themselves sifting through the debris in the buckets looking for more body parts. The parts were placed in a body bag with a tag indicating the location where they were found.

"You couldn't count the number of body parts we saw," he said. One body part was a liver.

They worked through the night, and Nadeau said he only got two hours of sleep on a cot in a high school. The rest of his time in New York, he slept in his truck.

The first day.

When he first saw the devastation in the light of day, "I couldn't believe it," Nadeau said. "I guess it was the Marine in me. I was just asking myself, 'how could this happen? What events led up to this? How did they get this far? How did they do this?' I'm angry that we trained these people in our country and they used our planes to do this."

Nadeau described "an extremely dangerous" site that Thursday, with shifting piles of rubble and a great deal of uncertainty about the structural integrity of the nearby buildings.

"They told you, 'keep looking up.' There was a steel beam embedded in a nearby building and you never knew if it might fall," he said. "There were no safety rules. I couldn't believe some of the things the iron workers did without a harness. We were climbing that rubble, six, seven, eight stories. Once an acetylene tank fell over, and it just took off across the debris pile like a balloon running out of air. People just scattered. They thought something was going to explode. Everybody was on edge. I was scared too, I admit it."

Under a walk bridge, Nadeau said they found bodies of two police officers in a patrol car, and next to it, several dead firefighters in a fire truck.

"The New York fire fighters were incredible," Nadeau said. "When we found the body of a firefighter, everything in the area stopped. All the firefighters who were in the area moved in and any part of the body they could find they put in a body bag. If they found his hat, they'd put his hat on top of the bag. When they walked past, everybody stopped and took their hat off and bowed their head. They had total respect for their own."

The union presence.

Nadeau said in the first two days, there wasn't much coordination among the volunteers on the site, and they were getting in each other's way. At one point, when a body was found with a lot of heavy steel around it, a New York Fire Department battalion chief pleaded with the volunteers to step back and let the iron workers do their job to get the steel cut and moved out of the way by operating engineers. He said the union trades took charge of the work, and their efforts were the most important factor in opening up the site to the rest of the volunteers.

"The union construction presence was awesome," Nadeau said. "I salute the people who were there. They're not used to dealing with this stuff, but they did what they could. Iron workers, carpenters, laborers - they all got in there digging on their hands and knees to do the job.

"I'm a laborer, but let me tell you, of all the trades that were out there, everything hinged on the iron workers; they were just incredible," Nadeau said. "They were in there non-stop, cutting steel, sometimes on man-lifts in incredibly dangerous situations. I couldn't believe some of the stuff I saw."

The camaraderie and the conditions.

"The firefighters didn't need to know your name, they just called you brother," Nadeau said. "Every time you'd talk to someone and say you're from Michigan, they'd thank you and say, 'I can' t believe you came this far.' I got a hug from a homicide detective and some other firefighters, who said it's fantastic that you came all the way from Michigan. The people were great."

The City of New York had set up an area in a high school gym where volunteers could get new boots, safety equipment, clothes, even underwear in all sizes - no questions asked. Food was also provided.

"You never once walked down the street without people asking if you need water or anything," Nadeau said. "They were very grateful."

The work was inherently hazardous, but Nadeau said with the exception of an iron worker who broke his leg, he didn't see any volunteers seriously injured. Injuries mostly consisted of cut hands and dust particles in eyes.

At one point, Nadeau said just as he walked past the American Express Building near Ground Zero, the wind picked up and blew out a number of windows, severely cutting some rescuers walking just behind him.

"And the soot and heat coming up from the pile were just awful," Nadeau said. "And later on in the week, there was the stench from the bodies. I heard they figure the dogs who were out there sniffing that dust and the asbestos probably have a life span of about two years."

Lost and (not) found.

A brokerage house statement showing someone with a $55 million account. Family photos. Money. Pens and pencils. A business card for a vice president at Cantor-Fitzgerald, the big brokerage house that lost 600 employees in the tragedy. Those were among the items Nadeau saw in the rubble - but of course, they weren't the focus of the search.

"You always wanted to find somebody alive," he said. "You'd find a pocket in the debris and go into it, and you'd wonder what you'd find going in that hole. You would hope you would find someone alive, but we never did."

Nadeau looked over the shoulder of searchers who probed the debris pile with tiny cameras and microphones in an effort to find signs of life - but none were ever found. They did learn that there were very high readings of carbon dioxide at the bottom of the pile - perhaps from a broken sewer line.

Coming home.

Toward the weekend the organization at the site improved. Military police were guarding checkpoints to keep away the curious. The Federal Emergency Management Agency was bringing a degree of order to the chaos. The feds said that for the time being, they had enough people. Heavy equipment and a mile-long chain of debris-haulers were putting a small dent in the rubble pile.

"I was just exhausted, physically and emotionally," he said. His girlfriend and children wanted him home. So he drove straight back to Michigan, first passing back over the George Washington Bridge, where a huge American flag had been draped. "When I saw that flag, I felt good about what I had done," Nadeau said.

He said he wanted to tell his story not for personal promotion, but to let other Americans know how proud they should be of everyone who volunteered and risked their own health and safety to help others. He said he knew of many other Monroe-area firefighters who went to New York, and saw other volunteers from Michigan while he was there.

On the drive home Sunday, he turned on his car radio and realized how much news he had missed. He had also missed celebrating his youngest son's fifth birthday the day before. Especially on his mind was the degree to which his trip to New York had affected his children.

"They heard on TV about the firefighters, and they got concerned about my safety," he said. "My oldest son asked me if I saw any more bodies there, and he's had trouble sleeping. That tears me apart. I talked to them, and explained that I'm safe, and they're safe. That's just too much for a six-year-old to handle."

Still, Nadeau said he was "lucky" to have had the opportunity to take part in the search effort.

"Would I do it again?" he said. "Yes. Remember what I said about the Marine Corps and the firefighters? They get their people out no matter what."

CONSTRUCTION WORKERS, firefighters, police officers and volunteers from the general public go about the awful business of removing 400,000 tons of rubble that used to be the World Trade Center towers in New York City.

A NEW YORK CITY fire truck is shown smashed by World Trade Center collapse.
Photos by David Nadeau


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Construction union members weigh in with skills, equipment to aid New York

By Marty Mulcahy
Editor

"This is what we do."

Those simple words, uttered by a New York iron worker, summed up the good works of thousands of building trades workers who helped - and offered to help - dismantle and remove the rubble of the collapsed World Trade Center towers in the search for survivors.

Building trades workers were on the scene within hours of the collapse of the towers, ready to volunteer to take apart the large and small pieces of the seven-story pile of rubble that was covering the victims.

"I'm scared s---less, but there could still be people in there," said one volunteer iron worker on Sept. 12. "We'll stay around as long as it takes," said another.

News reports estimated that 16,000 volunteers descended on Ground Zero in New York to help in the rescue effort in the days following the terrorist attacks. Numerous trades workers from Michigan also helped or offered to help in the rescue effort.

According to the AFL-CIO, more than 1,000 iron workers from the mid-Atlantic and New England regions volunteered to help, and were put to work in three shifts around the clock in the early stages of the operation. "The job of the iron workers has been unbelievable," said New York Fire Commissioner Thomas Von Essen.

But the iron workers weren't the only trades workers involved in the massive search for victims in the rubble. The New York City Building and Construction Trades Council "is operating around the clock," said Secretary-Treasurer Edward Malloy on Sept. 17. "We have thousands of people (of all trades) who are down there assisting the rescue, and we'll be working throughout the entire cleanup."

Malloy said the building trades lost about 35 electrical workers, painters, laborers, and steam fitters who were working in the towers when they collapsed. Maintenance and renovation work was constant in the towers, which were completed in 1973.

Craig Trykowski, a laborer working on the 34th floor of the tower hit by the first plane, told the Engineering News Record, "I was trying to clear the area of sheetrock ...and just as I was filling the dumpster, the whole building shook, it swayed back and forth. I thought at first it was an earthquake."

He and 70-odd workers hit the stairwell as water pipes broke and panic flared. As he went down, a group of firemen were going up, never to be seen again.

The extent of the tragedy of the collapse of the World Trade towers and the fire at the Pentagon in Washington became clear in the days afterward. In New York, the thousands of workers killed included some 300 firefighters and 85 police officers. A total of 189 civilian and military workers were killed at the Pentagon.

"We mourn those who perished as they performed their work, whether in rescue efforts, in offices or on airplanes," said AFL-CIO President John Sweeney. "Union members have gone into action to assist the rescue efforts, and the AFL-CIO and our unions will do everything we can to assist the continued rescue operations and the medical care of those injured."

By Sunday, Sept. 16, volunteers in New York were being nudged off the job, replaced by employees of four contractors hired to do the salvage work.

For many volunteers, reports said it was wrenching to back off. But the switch from volunteer workers to paid contractors was inevitable at the World Trade Center site. One reason: volunteers didn't have to follow directives. Officials also needed to make sure workers on site were qualified, had safety training, came through union hiring halls, and were subject to jurisdiction.

It could take up to a year to remove the estimated 400,000 tons of rubble from the World Trade site. And there is already talk of rebuilding on the site.

"My grandfather worked on the World Trade Center," said iron worker Konrad Sawicki in the ENR. "He used to tell stories about the winds that were up there and how dangerous it was. No harnesses, no safety nets. Hardly anyone wore hard hats. He just told me, 'they took it down, now you'll get a chance to put it back up.' "

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Hardhats' work now in session at Michigan's Hall of Justice

LANSING - The new home for Michigan's highest court is taking shape.

The six-story, 281,000 square-foot Michigan Hall of Justice will house the Michigan Supreme Court, the state Court of Appeals (Lansing office) and the State Court Administrative Office in our state's capital. These entities now occupy leased space in several downtown Lansing locations.

Ground was broken on the Hall of Justice in 1999 at the west end of the Capitol Mall at Ottawa and Butler. It will cost about $111 million, and completion is expected in 2002. The project will include a 460-space parking structure. The Christman Co. is acting as the general contractor.

The consolidation is expected to save $204 million in rent over 25 years, according to the Department of Management and Budget. However, the new building will cost $23 million more than originally promised because of the state's slumping economy. State officials had hoped to pay for the original $87.8 million cost of the building in cash when they approved the project three years ago, but now a bond issue will have to be used to help pay for interest on money that will have to be borrowed.

THE WEST VIEW OF the new Michigan Hall of Justice building.

TRADESMEN fabricate the dome of the Hall of Justice.

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'Buy union now' website up and running

Consumers looking to buy union and buy American now have a place to shop.

"We carefully research every product and brand that we offer, to guarantee that the product is Union Made/American Made," says the literature on a web site that started up in July, called BuyUnionNOW.com.

The web site's self-proclaimed mission is to help protect union jobs, members and their families by giving union members and all Americans an opportunity to support union-friendly American companies with one-stop shopping on the Internet.

Founder Chris Kuban of St. Louis was touring Michigan union halls last week to call attention to the web site. "A lot of union workers say they want to buy union, and this gives them an opportunity," he said. "We have nearly 1,000 items on the site, each identifying the union plant where the product is made and the workers' union."

Josh Campbell, BuyUnionNow.Com's Director of Market Strategies stated, "It's my job to research these companies. I can personally assure everyone the difficulty of finding American-made, union-made products. When I sign up a manufacturer, it's a great feeling because I know we may be able to save America jobs."
The web address is pretty self-explanatory: buyunionnow.com. They also can be reached toll-free at (866) BuyUnion. (This article is informational only. We have no information on the quality of service).

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Three Towers now a union-signatory contractor

By Marty Mulcahy
Editor

There's a welcome new addition to the organized construction industry in Michigan.

Three Towers Fire Protection Group, Inc. of Lincoln Park on Sept. 17 signed a collective bargaining agreement with Sprinkler Fitters Local 704, bringing nine new tradesmen into the local while opening up "a world of business opportunities" for the company, according to its president.

"It's in the best interests of the company, and it's in the best interest of our workers that we become a signatory contractor," said Three Towers President Stanley Sikorski. "There were jobs out there that we just couldn't bid on because we weren't union, and now I think we have unlimited potential."

The company started as Vanguard Design Sprinkler Co. Inc. in 1977, and over the years became one of the largest fire protection companies in the state, with 25 employees. The company also operates Vanguard Security Systems, Inc. The fire protection firm has done design and installation work for numerous general contractors, big and small, around the state.

The company is changing its name to Three Towers Fire Protection Group Inc. in concert with its switch to union affiliation. Sikorski, whose daughters Kristie, Suzanne and Heather are officers in the company, said the name of the firm refers to them "towering over the competition."

"We've been trying to organize them from day one," said Local 704 Business Manager Tom McNamara. "They've never said no, but they never have made a commitment, either. I'm happy to have Stan and his workers aboard; they're good people."

Local 704 has occasionally had a contentious relationship with Vanguard, on construction sites and occasionally in the courts. There have been numerous picket lines, and many of the Vanguard employees grew frustrated in taking abuse from union workers on mixed union-nonunion projects. But over the years, both the union and the company have operated under the understanding that whatever differences they had were strictly business and not personal.

"They're a good company, with skilled people who do quality work, and that's why they have lasted as long as they have," said Local 704 Organizer Dan Hall. "Stan has always taken care of his people when it comes to hourly pay, they've been pretty close to union scale. Financially, we'll be able to help them when it comes to their pension."

Sikorski agreed. "Some of our guys are getting older, and while we have a 401k plan, I wanted to see them have a better retirement. That's where the union is really going to help."

The union will also help open the door to work opportunities for Three Towers. Sikorski said over the years, the company has accepted the limitations of not being able to bid or work on projects with general contractors that only employ union subcontractors.

"We wanted to be independent, but there are a lot of work opportunities out there and now I think it's time to change our ways," Sikorski said. "I think we're all looking forward to it."

Among his employees, none have balked at joining Local 704.

"It'll be good for the older guys and the younger guys, because of the pension," said Jim Fountain, 42, who has worked for the company since 1979. "And the younger guys will be able to go to the apprenticeship school. This will be good for us all, and I think it's time for a change."

THREE TOWERS FIRE PROTECTION Group Inc. has signed a collective bargaining agreement with Sprinkler Fitters Local 704. Front row (l-r) are company President Stanley Sikorski, daughters Heather Granlich and Kristie Sikorski, Local 704 Organizer Dan Hall and Business Mgr. Tom McNamara. Employees include (l-r) Harry Fountain, Ken Sova, Jim Whitlow, Larry Erpelding, Jim Fountain, Jr., Richard Fountain, Jim Fountain, Sr., Lance Kluge, Ross Alford, Brian Nadeau, Bob Hourigan, and Brian Hoffman.

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NEWS BRIEFS

ENR lists top contractors
The Engineering News Record's annual rankings of construction firms are out, and several Michigan-based contractors have made the top 100.

Southfield-based Barton Malow Co. (#35), Detroit-based Walbridge-Aldinger Co. (#62), Angelo Iafrate of Warren (#65) and Northville's Ellis Don Construction Inc. (#68) all made the top 100. The firms were rated according to revenues from their involvement with prime contracting, joint ventures, subcontracts and design-construct ventures.

The Bechtel Group Inc. of San Francisco was ranked No. 1 on the list.

Other contractors familiar to the Michigan construction industry include: The Turner Corp. of Dallas, (#3); Peter Kiewit and Sons of Omaha (#7); The Clark Construction Group of Bethesda, Maryland (#12); Black and Veatch of Kansas City (#20), Hunt Construction Group of Indianapolis (#25), Perini Corp. of Framingham, Mass., (#37), and J.S. Alberici of St. Louis (#53).

The top 400 firms with Michigan ties includes the Boldt Co. of Appleton Wisconsin (#101); Granger Construction of Lansing (#155); The Christman Co. of Lansing (#160); Miron Construction of Appleton, Wisconsin (#164); Roncelli of Sterling Heights (#232); Clark Construction of Lansing (#271); George W. Auch of Pontiac (#289); J.M. Olsen of St. Clair Shores (#317), and DeMaria of Novi (#382)

Construction's health may be slipping
The huge drop in the stock market following the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon could very well push the nation into an economic recession, many economists predict, and the construction industry had already been showing signs of faltering last summer.

The nation's unemployment rate in the construction industry jumped from 6.8 percent to 7.5 percent in August. That percentage translates into an increase of 56,000 unemployed construction workers in the nation, for a total of 626,000, the Labor Department reported.

Meanwhile, the F.W. Dodge Division of McGraw Hill reported that the value of new construction starts in July retreated by 5 percent to $470 billion.

"The latest month, while showing generally reduced activity, remains consistent with the sense that the construction industry has leveled off close to last year's pace," said Robert A. Murray, vice president of economic affairs for Dodge.

Nonunion sector still way behind
As we reported in our last issue, some nonunion contractors are beating up their portion of the construction industry over the low-paying conditions for workers.

"Today," said a former bigwig with one of the nation's largest nonunion contractors, "we do not have craftsmen, we do not have apprentices, we have poor people."

And the trend isn't changing. Personnel Administrative Services Inc. reported that open shop contractors anticipate offering raises of 4.62 percent for all crafts in 2001 - a drop of one-third percent from raises given in 2000.

Meanwhile, first-year collective bargaining agreements in the construction industry provided the nation's unionized workers with an average increase of 4.3 percent during the first 36 weeks of 2001. That compares to 4.0 percent during the same period in 2000.

Nonunion workers are going to have to make some significant wage gains if they're going to catch their union counterparts. In the region that includes Michigan, according to PAS Inc., the average U.S. nonunion construction worker earns $20.88 per hour in wages and fringes. The average union construction worker earns 32.33 per hour in wages and fringes.

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