New York, NY — Louis J. Coletti, President Emeritus, Building Trades Employees Association (BTEA) has proven himself time and time again to be a leader extraordinaire. His titles throughout his career are too numerous to list, but one position he held was particularly important. From 1997-2023 he was President & Chief Executive Officer of the BTEA, the largest and most influential contractor association in New York, representing 1200 construction managers, general and subcontractor construction companies, and 26 individual contractor trade associations. Coletti has 36 years of construction industry leadership and experience and is widely recognized and respected in New York City and State for his advocacy efforts in government affairs and public policy, real estate, labor relations, workforce development, and economic development.

LaborPress was privileged to be able to delve further into just some of his depths of experience, and to bring to our readers some stand-out moments in all that he has done and achieved.

LP: Where did you grow up? Was there anything in particular in the environment or with family

members that you feel helped mold your character and led you to be such an effective leader?

LC: I grew up in Elizabeth, NJ, the son of blue-collar parents. I attended public schools from grade school through college.  The key to the values they taught me were work hard, work to the best of your ability, always treat people with dignity and respect even when you disagree with them, always keep your word, and never lie.

LP: You have so many accomplishments during your long and distinguished tenure as President & CEO of the BTEA. What were some of the contributing factors?

LC: My accomplishments were based upon the support and cooperation of the BTEA contractors and the Building and Construction Trades Council (BCTC) leaders working together, based on trust, the relationships built over the years.  People working together for a common cause.

LP: Please share a few details about how you managed to negotiate specific PLA’s, such as

MetroTech/Chase or others, and how they benefitted Labor?

LC: The MetroTech story is a simple one.  Bruce Rattner of Forrest City Rattner had a vision of how that project could be the catalyst for economic growth for Brooklyn.  He needed an anchor tenant which would show the finance community his dream could become a reality.  He called Ed Malloy, Building Trades President and myself to talk about how to find a way to reduce construction costs because he wanted to pursue Brooklyn Union Gas as the anchor tenant.  Bruce, Ed, and Bob Catell –  the President of Brooklyn Union Gas – began to meet and discuss the parameters of what BUG needed to become that anchor tenant.  After that, the owner, myself and Ed began meeting to discuss the specifics of that agreement.  When we agreed upon a document we brought it to Bob Catell who then brought it to his Board of Directors.  Once they agreed, more and more businesses determined they wanted to move to MetroTech.  Sounds simple but it took a couple of years to get to that point.

LP: Can you expand on how you worked on the response and clean-up around 9/11?

LC: The 9/11 attack—when news started about the first plane hitting the tower no one really believed it.  My office was on 28th street and I had a clear view of the WTC towers.  I went over to the window and actually saw the 2nd plane hit the building.  When the shock settled in I tried to phone City Hall to see how we could help, but all the power was out and phones didn’t work.  I called our public relations firm and told them to get on TV where I gave out a way for anyone who wanted to help to reach out.  I then received a call from city officials giving me a secure phone to use asking if we could get masks to a central location at Westchester Airport.  I reached out to contractors to ask for that help and within two hours the city called me and asked to stop—they were overwhelmed with the number of masks contractors had delivered to that location.  Meanwhile, while everyone was running away from the site, building trade union members from all over the city were running towards the site.  It took us some time to establish a central entry point to ensure they were trained building trades members who would know what to do.  I had people calling from all over the country telling me they were coming to help—but we didn’t just want anyone given the challenges of that site.  Many came and were turned away when they couldn’t prove they were building trade union trained workers.  Ultimately, we set up a training facility with OSHA and no members of labor were allowed to work on that site without the OSHA training and a mask.  OSHA then patrolled the site and if any worker did not have the mask on they were told to put it on or be removed from the site.

LP: How did you aid in the establishment of the vastly important Victims Compensation Fund?

LC: The Victims Compensation Board came about when contractors Peter Davoren of Turner Construction and John Cavanaugh of Morse Diesel went to Washington, D.C. in a plea for financial aid for the cleanup and met directly with President George Bush, Jr. and his staff.  The idea of providing funding also for those whom we knew would suffer some level of health threat was discussed and the BTEA General Counsel Steve Charney came to D.C. and drafted the legislation and document that become the Victims Compensation Fund.

LP: Hurricane Sandy was catastrophic. You worked with Mayor Bloomberg to coordinate emergency cleanup response – what was that like for you?

LC: Hurricane Sandy was much simpler because the Mayor was aware of how the BTEA and the BCTC worked together in these kinds of situations.  The Mayor’s office called Gary LaBarbera and myself and pretty quickly negotiated a Project Labor Agreement and got it to BTEA contractors so they could bid the recovery work.

LP: The COVID-19 pandemic was an enormous challenge to so many. What were the construction protocols you developed and what helped you get it done?

LC: COVID-19, the same thing.  Governor Andrew Cuomo was aware of the strong partnership between the BTEA and BCTC and we met with his chief of staff and other key aides and we, along with the Real Estate Board of NY President Jim Whelan worked out the protocols that were adopted.

LP: As Senior Vice President of Lehrer McGovern Bovis from 1992-1997, please share your thoughts about its Minority and Women-Owned participation efforts. Do you think diversity, inclusion, and equity have improved over the years in the many areas in which you have been a leader?

LC: Minority/Women-owned Business Enterprises (MWBE) efforts were pretty basic back then and have grown greatly over the years.  Much more needs to be done.

LP: Do you have an opinion on how best to help bring back the middle class, amidst the increasing financial divide between the haves and have-nots?

LC: The best way to rebuild the middle class is to use the city’s PLA’s as the basis of providing good jobs and incorporating MWBE contractors into the union industry.

LP: If you could sum up your thoughts from all your years of experience and dedication, what might you say about how to meet challenges, persevere during tough times, and work with others in order to have successful outcomes for your goals?

LC: Whether times are tough or not, the basic elements for successful outcomes are pretty clear:

Labor and management have to work together as partners, we have to trust each other through the difficult conversations, build strong relationships and rely upon those principles I was taught by my parents, because pretty much other parents of that generation taught their children the same ones. It’s up to us to sustain those values and everyone will benefit.

Louis J. Coletti


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