March 24, 2014
By Steven Wishnia

“Work. Money. Benefits. Union,” chorused the four young men waiting outside Ironworkers Union Locals 40 & 361’s headquarters in Astoria Mar. 20. They were among the more than 350 people on line, bringing the $25 money orders and photocopied picture IDs needed to apply to the union’s apprenticeship program.

“I really hope to get lucky,” said Dennis Parache, 26, of Queens, who currently works as a tower climber, upgrading and repairing cell-phone towers.

People started lining up at 10 a.m. the day before, more than 24 hours before the gates opened, said Bryan Brady, director of training for Locals 40 & 361. By the time they opened, the line stretched around two corners.

Mike Johnson, 43, of Harlem, showed up at 10 the night before, getting the 43rd spot on the line and staying in his car to keep out of the pouring rain. “That’s how determined I am,” he said.

“I’m just looking for a job that has some future,” said Kirk Kerr, 26, of Queens. “You can’t feed a family on 10 bucks an hour.” Kerr, who said he heard about the applications from a cousin in Laborers Local 79, has worked at “everything,” from paving roads to issuing parking tickets.

The jobs available start at around $30 an hour, said Brady. There are 200 slots in the program, and the union generally takes on new apprentices every other year, more often if there’s more work.

Many said they’d heard about the applications from the state Department of Labor’s Web site. They came from a variety of occupations. Santos Mariani, 31, of the Bronx, works as a roofer; Rahim Abrahim, 42, a bearded Guyanese immigrant from Richmond Hill, as a security guard. Mike, a 27-year-old who’d gotten up at 3:30 to come down from Rockland County, said he works with burglar alarms—installing them, not disabling them.

Bianca Molinari, a 25-year-old medical assistant from Long Island who was one of the handful of women on line, said she’d gotten the idea from being in the Nontraditional Employment for Women program.

Applicants first take a written test and an aptitude test, explains Brady. The ones who rank highest will then get a physical test to see if they can do tasks like climbing a 35-foot column, raising and lowering a ton of steel with a chain fall, and turning bolts in 14 different positions with a 35-pound impact wrench.

The ones accepted will learn how to build with structural steel—Locals 40 & 361’s specialty, as Local 46 handles rebar and Local 580 ornamental ironwork. This includes rigging, scaffolding, Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations, working with tower cranes, welding, and plumbing-up steel.

“You build a 100-story building, you gotta make sure it goes up straight,” Brady says.

The union will be taking applications every Thursday through May 22.


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