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Ratner’s Modulars Shorten Man of Concrete’s Retirement

September 24, 2013

Robert Ledwith president of the Concrete Alliance
Robert Ledwith, president of the Concrete Alliance
By Marc Bussanich 

New York, NY—Robert Ledwith started out in the construction industry as an ironworker in 1959 just as New York City’s skyline was on the verge of undergoing dramatic changes. He’s seen a lot of changes as technological advances have reshaped industry practices. But as Bruce Ratner embarks on building the world’s tallest modular building, the latest advances could undermine job prospects for building tradesmen. 

Ledwith was formerly the business manager for the Metallic Lathers and Reinforcing Ironworkers Union Local 46 before retiring.

But after nine months of retirement, he got too bored and decided to re-enter the field; this time as president of the Concrete Alliance of Greater New York, a consortium of concrete manufacturers and building tradesmen who advocate and promote the virtues of cast-in-place reinforced concrete.   

Ledwith says he joined the alliance because he wants to help inform the public about the positive attributes of cast-in-place reinforced concrete (as opposed to cast in a fabrication plant) while also trying to save the livelihoods of hard working building tradesmen.

Union tradesmen are already feeling the pinch from proliferating non-union shops and the introduction of pre-fabricated units into the city’s building stock worries Ledwith.

“Price pressures from the non-union sector are really leading a race to the bottom. We’re not only advocating that cast-in-place reinforced concrete is a tried and true method but that union labor benefits the city’s economy because of its greater purchasing power,” said Ledwith.

The alliance is waging an aggressive advertising campaign to espouse the benefits of cast-in-place concrete, taking out full-page ads in journals such as ENR New York that cater to school construction authorities, owners and developers and construction managers.

The aggressive push is intended to counter Bruce Ratner’s ambitious plans for the buildings surrounding the Barclays Center. Ratner envisions building more pre-fab buildings in the city and even transporting pre-fab material built at the Brooklyn Navy Yard to developers in other cities.

Ratner historically has hired union tradesmen to build his skyscrapers (union labor is building the pre-fab units in the navy yard) but his plans for more modular buildings means they’ll be a lot less building tradesmen working at construction sites.

“Where cast-in-place concrete is used, you’ll have multiple tradesmen on the construction site such as carpenters, plumbers and electricians. But only a handful of them are needed to connect pre-fab units at the offsite factory,” Ledwith said.

While Ratner is touting the efficacy of pre-fab buildings, the alliance is emphasizing that pre-fab units are not a proven construction method that can, for example, retain heat in winter and release heat in summer as efficiently as cast-in-place concrete.

Indeed, the Plumbing Foundation filed a lawsuit in July claiming that Ratner’s modular buildings ignore critical building safety rules.

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