Editor’s Note: LaborPress is proud to present the 2022 Outstanding Apprentice of the Year Awards for Long Island and New York City on Thursday, June 16, hosted by Teamsters Local 282 in Lake Success, NY. Today, we continue our ongoing series leading up to this year’s gala event introducing each of those fascinating and inspiring award-winners to the wider labor movement.
New York, NY – Ironworkers Local 580 Stephen Laurenzi, 47, may have come to the industry later in life, but his trade unionism began much earlier.
“I’ve been union my entire life,” the former Teamster and White Plains native tells LaborPress. Laurenzi had a “pretty broad knowledge” about the Building Trades as a Teamster, in addition to a slew of relatives — “brothers-in-law and cousins” working as union Electricians, Ironworkers and Carpenters — “all across the board.”
Local 580 and its topflight training program soon caught his interest. In large part, he says, because of the specialty work they do. Graduating the apprentice program in 2020, Laurenzi has found a wealth of new skills and crafts he truly loves.
“Here in New York it’s all specialized,” Laurenzi says. “The structural guys are Local 40, the reinforcing guys are 46. But 580, specifically, we’re the ornamental and architectural, and we do everything from curtain wall to stairs, window jobs for smaller schools, stainless, cladding — it runs the gamut.”
When asked about cladding — “the mirrored metal that looks like stainless steel that gets put around columns and beams” — Laurenzi’s excitement is evident.
“It’s sort of one of those things where it’s not like electricians, their work gets hidden, structural guys, that iron gets cladded over…it gets covered up and you don’t get to see it,” he says. “But the ornamental and architectural line workers, for the most part, you get to see our finished product. You get to see it in the lobbies. I had the good fortune to work for a brief period of time in Grand Central’s East Side Access where those train tunnels are all cladded in stainless steel. It’s just gorgeous.”
Laurenzi’s continues, “I mean, they have escalators that run three stories that have stainless. There’s parts of lobbies that I’ve worked in that have brass and copper. It’s something to be able to go back and see it for yourself. To know that your finished product is something everybody’s going to see — anybody that travels through those doorways, hallways, building lobbies, what have you.”
Curtain wall is also an aspect of his work in which Laurenzi takes particular pleasure. “Curtain wall is one of those things that I just thoroughly enjoy,” he says. “I mean, people don’t know what goes into installing the facade of a building. It just looks like a window to the average person, and it did to me as well at one point, but now — having worked almost exclusively on curtain wall projects — it’s just for me. That’s the part that really thrills me. I enjoy the edge work. That’s my favorite part of the job. I like the installation of curtain wall, for me that’s truly where it’s at. I mean, don’t get me wrong, taking part in installing some of these stainless steel lobbies and cladding some of the columns on the terraces and installing the shoes that the glass rails will sit on these terraces on some of our skyscrapers is also something I thoroughly enjoy. But curtain wall is just one of those things. I can do it every day.”
Having been union his whole adult life, Laurenzi has only good things to say about his experience.
“There’s a laundry list there I can give you,” he says. “I mean, one of the major benefits is just the collective bargaining aspect of it. The fact that you’re not alone. You have this entire entity — this organization of folks that have all of our best interests at heart — that’s the sort of thing that just can’t be replaced. The representation, the benefit of having people fighting on your behalf, for benefits, for safe working standards — you can’t quantify it. It’s immeasurably important to the average worker in construction just to be able to put in a fair day’s work for a fair day’s wage and still get home to their families safely — and get as close as we possibly can to achieving, for lack of a better phrase, that proverbial American dream. To be able to provide for one’s family, to be able to live with a fairly significant high quality of life. You know, I think it’s just irreplaceable. That sort of thing is what has always drawn me to unions. I’ve been pro-union and always will be.”
Laurenzi now lives in Oxford, Connecticut with his wife and three children.