Editor’s Note: Locals from the International Union of Elevator Constructors near and far were among the more than 1,000 attendees who came out to the Sheraton this past weekend for IUEC Local One’s 125th anniversary celebration. LaborPress asked our colleague Marc Bussanich to document the gala event.
New York, NY – Local 1 has actually been around for 127 years — but the 125th anniversary celebration had to be postponed in 2020 due to the Covid-19 lockdown. But that pause only contributed to the overwhelming show of solidarity, brotherhood and sisterhood clearly on display at the event held Saturday night.
Kicking off the event was Matt McElduff of Local 1, the head of the 125th anniversary coordinating committee, who first introduced Brendan Loftus to lead the audience in the Pledge of Allegiance. The Pledge was followed by the singing of the Canadian National Anthem by Gerard Carelli, as well as the singing of the U.S. National Anthem by Local 1 apprentice Brandon Paller.
Following the singing of the anthems, Pastor of the Infant Jesus Parish in Port Jefferson, Long Island, Father Patrick Riegger, who’s also the brother of Secretary-Treasurer Mike Riegger, led the audience in invocation.
Following the invocation, McElduff thanked all the members of the 125th anniversary committee for their hard work and dedication.
“I am honored, proud and grateful that after postponing this event back in 2020, we are here celebrating together. These last two years are a great testament to the strength and resiliency of our city and our local, and [we hope] that IUEC Local 1 will be successful for another 125 years,” said McElduff.
Before Local 1’s President and Business Manager Lenny Legotte took the stage, a short video played on the big screens depicting the convergence of over 15,000 building trades’ members who gathered at Times Square back in 2018 to resist an open shop at the Hudson Yards development.
Legotte then walked to the front of the stage to discuss the Local’s history, present and future. He noted that everybody in the room knows the obvious: that elevator constructors service, maintain, build and modernize, safely, the more than 80,000 elevators in New York City.
“But what you don’t know, what people don’t talk about what we do—did you know that through Helmets to Hard Hats, Local 1 is the number one hire of veterans in the entire country. Not just of the entire IUEC; per capita, we put more veterans to work not only in just a job but in a career. We do it more than any other trade in the country per capita, think about that, Local 1,” said Legotte.
He also noted some other features that people may not know about the local. For example, the local participates in cancer walks throughout the entire metropolitan area, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars. It is a fundraiser for Children’s TherAplay, a not-for-profit pediatric outpatient clinic serving children with disabilities.
And, in conjunction with IUEC Local 5 in Philadelphia, the two locals raise money for veterans and also install stairlifts and elevators in homes for veterans that are coming home disabled.
Local one also raises money for an organization that the International runs—Toy Box Connection. Recently, a Local 1 member’s house caught on fire and burnt to the ground. The not-for-profit delivered a truckload of furniture and clothes to the member so that he and his family could get back on their feet.
And the Local’s Scholarship Fund raises money every year to help members go to college.
“These are things that nobody knows that we do,” exclaimed Legotte.
The future for the 3,200-member Local consists of making sure that it is around for another 125 years.
Before introducing the three guest speakers, Legotte noted that New York City is a union town, making sure to acknowledge the servers and wait staff of the Hotel Trades Council, the musicians of Local 802 AFM, the stagehands of IATSE and the bar tenders’ union of UNITE HERE.
He then described the criteria applied to deciding who should speak at the 125th celebration.
“Local 1 is in that foxhole every day, so who else do I want in that fox hole?” asked Legotte.
It turns out, it’s Frank J. Christensen, IUEC’s General President.
“He’s from the South Side of Chicago and he’s the number one guy I want in Local 1’s foxhole when it comes to fighting wars,” Legotte said.
Christensen began by saying he couldn’t be prouder to be at the event to celebrate Local 1’s long history and Legotte’s leadership.
“Local 1’s officers and staff, this whole team is nothing short of a well-oiled machine and I know that you are looked upon as role models and even trailblazers within the International. Speaking of trailblazers, I know our International and Local 1 would not be where it is today without the leaders and members who came before us,” Christensen said.
Just as the introductory video depicted, Christensen took note of the amazing solidarity that the New York Building Trades displayed during the fight with Related Companies over the second phase of the Hudson Yards project.
“There was no way that Local 1 was going to accept an open shop at the site. You didn’t just figuratively stand shoulder to shoulder with your fellow building trades’ brothers and sisters in a year-long strike, you were on the front line leading the charge [and] attending the rallies. In the tradition of great New York City trade unionists who had preceded you, you stood by the union ideal — that an attack on one is an attack on all,” Christensen said.
He then noted one of Local 1’s greatest displays of its connection to community came at its darkest hour.
“When the Word Trade Center was attacked, your brother Local 1 member Charles Castello ran towards the danger to help his fellow New Yorkers — it was an act that cost him his life,” said Christensen.
He added, “He has never been forgotten by members of Local 1 or the entire IUEC. While he was but one person, he knew he had the ability to help countless others. If this does not illustrate what it means to be a union member, I don’t know what does.”
Then Legotte described his personal and professional relationship with the president of The Building & Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, Gary LaBarbera.
“He’s one of the few people in the entire country that can say ‘I need 15,000 people in Times Square to start yelling at the top of their lungs waving signs’ and two days later there’s 15,000 people in Times Square,” said Legotte.
LaBarbera began by saying that on behalf of the more than 200,000 men and women of the building trades throughout the state of New York, he congratulated Local 1 and its membership for 127 years.
Then he referenced the introductory video, noting that during the campaign against Related he faced personal attacks and lawsuits, but stood firm.
“I’ll say it again — the Building Trades Council, me, personally the attacks, the lawsuits — I never back down and there’s a reason why I never back down. I never back down because I had support from people like Lenny Legotte and the members of Local 1 — that’s why I never back down — and I never will back down,” said LaBarbera.
LaBarbera continued by saying the virtues Christensen and Legotte discussed of being in a union comes with responsibility.
“And that responsibility is to carry on for the next generation; that responsibility is to have loyalty and honor to your brothers and sisters and that responsibility is to go to work every day and do the job better than anybody and go home safe to your families— that’s what union construction looks like,” LaBarbera said.
He concluded his speech by noting that the beginning of every Building Trades’ council meeting is the Pledge of Allegiance. That’s why the upcoming Memorial Day weekend is more than just well-deserved time off.
“Memorial Day Weekend — everyone thinks of Memorial Day as the unofficial start of summer — we’re going to be flipping burgers, having some beers, chilling out on the patio. Let me tell you something, Memorial Day is a lot more than that. Memorial Day is a day of reverence and remembrance because freedom is not free; there was a price that was paid for it by our brothers and sisters in the armed services. Brothers and sisters, God bless you and God bless America, the greatest country in the world,” exclaimed LaBarbera.
Then Legotte introduced the president of the North America’s Building Trades Unions, Sean McGarvey, who, like LaBarbera before him, was inspired by the introductory video displaying the massive show of labor power in the heart of New York City.
“We avoid a fight when we can, but when we’re in it, pack a lunch because it’s going to be a long one,” said McGarvey.
He noted that the Hudson Yards project, if it became an open shop in phase two, would have ramifications for all union construction workers everywhere in North America.
“And the way Local 1 and the members rallied around LaBarbera and the leadership of the building trades — Lenny and his peers — was the most important labor event in my lifetime,” McGarvey said.
He concluded by saying that he’d end his speech where he started — wishing another 125 years for Local 1.
“Something tells me I won’t [see it], but I have every confidence that this local 125 years from now, when they gather for their 250th anniversary will be bigger and stronger and have more solidarity than you do now, if that’s possible. So, congratulations to you all for 125 years of solidarity,” McGarvey said.
Local 1’s Matt McElduff then announced the various locals throughout the country who presented plaques and awards to Legotte and Local 1, including Local 82 in Vancouver, BC, Local 2 in Chicago, Local 4 in Boston and Local 8 in San Francisco, among others.
The second to last presenter was Michelle Palmer, who has 24 years in Local 1 — she’s a second-generation member. Her mother was also a member.
She thanked Legotte for his commitment to career opportunities for women in the industry.
“Your commitment to recruitment and retention of women in the trade have not gone unnoticed. We also want to thank you for each year you have brought multiple sisters to this conference and we appreciate the representation — thank you for your efforts to making sure that women have a place in this union,” said Park.
And then presenting a plaque on behalf of the members of Local 1 were brothers Rob Murray and Mike Day.
Here’s to another 125 years.