New York, NY – Erick Garay, 36, who will graduate from the Apprenticeship program this June, is a prime example of the power of unions, in the most personal way. Garay came to the program later than some, but for him, it was a life-changer.
Before hearing of its existence through his brother, he had worked in the same profession for thirteen years – driving a truck, making deliveries, mostly to restaurants of non-food supplies. After all that time, he said, “I was not going anywhere.” Little did he know he was about to become part of a legendary local, a place where, he now says, “You can see the brotherhood all the time; you become somebody different. If you’re not a man, it makes you a man.”
Local 197 is the oldest union in the country, having celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2017. The Stone Derrickman and Riggers local, just one of five Iron Workers unions in New York City, practices a specific trade within the Iron Workers. The workers work on walkways, granite pavements, and buildings, and concrete wall panels, among other tasks. “No one really does what we do. We’re very skilled and very well trained,” says Bill Hayes, Financial Secretary/Treasurer/Business Manager for the Local. Their members’ craftsmanship is evident in the city, as they have worked on iconic structures. “We built the Brooklyn Bridge in 1869,” says Hayes. “Other big landmarks include the Empire State Building, the WTC Memorial, and Lincoln Center.”
You can see the brotherhood all the time; you become somebody different. If you’re not a man, it makes you a man.
Garay was lucky enough to obtain one of the coveted applications for the Apprenticeship program, then, like all selected applicants, went through a battery of tests and interviews before being accepted in the second draft, a year later. “I was so happy,” he says, “That day changed my life.” The three-year long program requires regular class attendance as well as full-time working on the job. His first long-term job of six months was working with a roofing company on a Columbia University medical school building. “It was a great job, I met great people. It was hard – but the best thing was all the things you learn. You can learn it in school, but if you don’t apply it, it doesn’t stick.” Just some of the skills he learned and practiced on this and other jobs include cutting, drilling, working with pre-cast stone – which can weigh between 20,000 to 30,000 pounds and requires a crane operator – and hardware installation, putting in clips and rods to hold the stone in place. Garay says great care is required in each moment. “Every step of the job must be done correctly for the next one to work,” he cautions, likening the precision and order required to an assembly line. “We follow a blueprint that’s very detailed.”
He has a great appreciation for the crews he has worked with and what he has learned from them. “You work with the best, and you become one of the best. Everyone has the experience, the knowledge, and did the same Apprenticeship I did.” The appreciation for his union brothers goes both ways. He earns high praise from Hayes, who says, “Erick is a fine example of a hardworking family man who is always ready to step up to the plate and help out his fellow apprentices. He is always the first to volunteer for any special events the union runs. Having men like Erick in the training program will continue to help the NYC labor movement in the future to be a successful strong middle class opportunity for generations to come. His dedication to his brothers and sisters in the labor movement is tremendous. He is a true example of what a union brother should be. I know we can count him in to stand up for what’s right! He is also going to be a great Stone Derrickmen Ironworker – his skills and training are top notch.”