On Solid Ground...
(3/21/2010) (From the New Haven Register)
On solid ground: Program keeps construction laborers hard at work
By Mary E. O’Leary, Register Topics Editor
NEW HAVEN — One of the hardest-hit sectors of the economy in the wake of the country’s financial meltdown has been the construction industry with an estimated 25 percent of its work force unemployed.
For a sizeable group of skilled laborers in the city, however, work has been steady, the paychecks keep coming and, rain or shine, they are on the job.
David Vega, 31, a sprinkler fitter for the M.J. Daly Co., has progressed from apprentice to journeyman over the past six years, working on city school projects and Yale University buildings, all as the result of an apprentice program sponsored by the city in collaboration with the building trade unions.
Headed by Nicole Jefferson, executive director of the city’s Commission on Equal Opportunities, residents get the basics of what is expected of them through its Workforce Construction Initiative and they are then filtered into specific programs through the unions.
Vega checked out Jefferson’s program after five years in the Marines, including a tour in Afghanistan, and stops in Egypt, Somalia, and various bases in Europe and the U.S.
“I was looking for work and I couldn’t find anything. I was told to come down to New Haven that they had a program going helping city residents find work. Nicole took me to M.J. Daly and right off the bat they liked me and I started with them, Local 676,” said Vega.
The biggest project under construction in the city, 360 State Street, a 32-story high-rise apartment complex downtown, is a major success story in terms of New Haven workers and minority contractors getting a piece of the economic pie.
As of December, Becker and Becker, the developer, and Suffolk Construction had hired 170 residents, 40 women and 260 minorities out of a total of 690 workers on the site. The $190 million complex is on target to open this summer.
To date, $10 million in contracts also have been awarded to small and minority contractors at 360 State Street. Kelly Murphy, economic development administrator for the city, said ordinarily this would have been difficult on such a big project, but Becker and Suffolk issued bid packages that allowed smaller contractors to compete for the work.
Vega is among the hundreds of workers streaming onto the site early each morning. From the 17th floor where he was installing a sprinkler system in one of the apartments recently, you can see where he lived as a kid at the Church Street South housing project.
Now a journeyman after years of training on the job, his hourly rate has gone from $13 an hour to around $39. “It’s a good living. I have no complaints,” Vega said.
“It’s not just the jobs that are provided, but the spin-off with that income coming back into the community,” Murphy said.
Construction in New Haven has been booming for years, with its $1.5 billion school renovation program, new construction through its housing authority, and private contractors building on city land — whether that’s 360 State Street, or several parcels connected to the expansion of Yale-New Haven Hospital.
All of these have minority set-aside programs, but the quality of the workers has others — such as Yale University and Winstanley Development, a major player in building at Science Park — voluntarily participating by picking up city workers for its building projects.
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