HAUPPAUGE, N.Y.—The incoming president of the Building Trades Council of Nassau and
Suffolk says his primary focus will be creating “opportunities for people who live on the Island.”
Matthew Aracich, business manager of Heat and Frost Insulators Local 12 since 2012 and a member of the council’s executive board, will formally take over Jan. 19, succeeding Richard O’Kane, who is stepping down after four and a half years as president. The Building Trades Council comprises 37 unions with 59,000 to 65,000 members.
He plans to continue O’Kane’s work pursuing project-labor agreements for public construction, with a “full circle of participation” among municipalities, contractors, and unions. “There should be labor standards with all public money,” he says.
A member of Local 12 for 33 years, Aracich describes himself as more of a straight talker than a public speaker. As it’s still “very early in the tenure,” he says he’ll set other priorities after talking to the unions in the council about what’s most important for them. For example, he says, “we’re great on public works,” which benefits the Operating Engineers and the Laborers. But prevailing-wage regulations don’t cover drawing, manufacturing, or installation work that’s not done directly on the job site, which creates a problem for Sheet Metal Workers Local 28.
Local 12, based in Long Island City, operates both on Long Island and in New York City. The construction industry in the suburbs has a distinctly different dynamic from the city’s, Aracich adds. There’s little high-rise construction, and on Long Island, there are multiple jurisdictions handling public works—two counties and thirteen towns, which are large political units that can comprise more than 50 smaller communities. The way jobs are spread out and the lack of public transportation, he says, mean that nonunion encroachment on major jobs is less of a problem than it is in the city. If employers want workers who will show up reliably, they have to pay them enough to afford a car.
Aracich, 56, became Local 12’s president in 1999 and financial secretary in 2004. He’s been a strong advocate for mechanical insulation, which he called “one of this country’s largest untapped resources for energy savings.” In 2014, New York City enacted a law requiring that any old pipes exposed during building renovations be insulated. The Heat and Frost Insulators has lobbied for a similar federal law since 2011.
He grew up in the Bronx and Bay Shore. He now lives in Westchester County, but is building a house in Westhampton so he can move back to the Island. He’s married to a retired teacher, and they have a grown son.
As his father and grandfather were members of Local 12, he says, his family has a total of 100 years in the union. “That’s why I have a moral obligation to continue it,” he adds, to ensure that the next generations will have the same opportunities. Labor leaders say that all the time, he notes, but it’s true: Union jobs give workers good wages, health care, and the ability to retire with dignity.