New York, NY – Marc Kemprowski is a third generation journeyman, instructor, and foreman at SMART Local 137. As the general manager of operations for OUTFRONT Media, he operates in both a supervisory role, as well as helping to create vital signage across Times Square and other NYC locales.
He comes from a long line of union workers. Kemprowski’s grandfather joined a sign hanging local in New Jersey immediately after the Second World War, followed by his father who joined up right out of high school, got laid off, then worked at nuclear power plants where he learned fabricating and layout work, among other skills.
“That’s who I learned from,” says Kemprowski, who, like his dad, started in the trade right after high school. “I worked with my father at Service Sign Erectors. He was the foreman. He ran the fabrication shop. It’s not too easy working with your father— he was very set in his ways. But for a good reason. I took that and held on to it.”
Kemprowski’s dad preferred his son at least try the college route. But the younger Kemprowski had other ideas.
“He was real hard on me,” Kemprowski says. “[But] I worked and I enjoyed it. I saw all of the pieces; the working parts. That was 23 years ago — I joined in June of ’98.”
The road to the trade is not an easy one and includes a 5-year apprenticeship, getting certifications and licenses, and then becoming adept at the work itself. Which involves fabricating, installing, cutting, welding, drilling, laying out, and dealing with engineers — among other tasks.
As general manager of operations, Kemprowski supervises 20 workers – he gives out assignments, takes care of the equipment, preps the work, bids the jobs and helps workers “still easing into [the job].” He also deals with the finance department, and the inner workings of corporations. His role as an instructor involves everyone in the local, including teaching apprentices and helping journey members re-certify every four-and-a-half years.
“I want to provide for my family, and I want others to provide for theirs,” Kemprowski says. “I want them to get home safe every day. I believe in working smarter — not harder. I’m a big believer in pre-planning, getting it done in my own head before we get there.”
Kemprowski is keenly aware of the many challenges the industry presents.
“What we do is very unique,” he says. “It’s always changing, the industry, the equipment — and unfortunately, some of the people.”
Among many other notable jobs, SMART Local 137 are the folks responsible for the Times Square Ball dropping every New Year’s Eve.
“Times Square is big,” Kemprowski says with pride. “It’s a big draw to the city. Everybody comes to see the lights, which is what we put up. I’m a third generation unionist. The union is a great thing. I believe in trying to help everybody get up. We have bi-monthly meetings. We all know each other and each others’ families. From the classes, I see the journey people. We bump into each other all over the place. If I can help someone, I will — and that’s what the union’s about.”