December 26, 2016
By Silver Krieger
New York, NY – Robert Bartels, Jr., Business Agent-at-Large for the Steamfitters Local 683, was honored by the Emerald Isle Immigration Center (EIIC) at its 28th annual gala in October, held at the Manhattan Club.
The EEIC was founded by members of the Irish Immigration Reform Movement in 1998, and assists New York Irish immigrants and those of other ethnicities with all aspects of immigration, social services, employment and education programs. Bartels was recognized for his “outstanding contributions in improving conditions for immigrant workers.”
A 35-year industry veteran, Mr. Bartels is a leader of Steamfitters Local 638, which advocates for union workers, ensuring safe conditions, quality wages and healthcare, pensions and other benefit protections. He is also a third generation Steamfitter, as well as being of Irish, and German, descent. “My father and my father’s uncle were Steamfitters, also in the same local. My grandparents on my mother’s side were from Dublin and Donegal, and they came here in the early 20th century. On my father’s side, my great-great-grandparents came from Germany.”
Bartels says his union is welcoming to all. “We will take people from any ethnic background. Right now, we have Croatians, Latinos, Irish, Italian and Jamaican members, among others.” These many immigrants all benefit from the work the union does to make a middle-class lifestyle available to its workers. “We work to ensure their families are covered for medical, dental, and all the benefits we can get them, for a better life in America. Everyone is treated equally.”
The type of work that is needed to make this happen includes continually working on organizing new members. “We are also always working with the New York City Building Trades Council, and taking in helmets to hardhats,” says Bartels. A program he is particularly proud of is the Veterans in Piping program that is administered through the International union. “It’s about taking care of military veterans when they come back from their service, and putting them into the business.”
Bartels sees more work ahead, especially as he sees the incoming administration’s choices for top posts. “I’m not happy with the appointment of all the big business people,” he says. “Whether it’s the former Exxon head or the choice for Secretary of Labor, they won’t understand the needs of our members. They are anti-union. [Andrew Puzder] the Secretary of Labor choice, doesn’t even want to pay workers $10/hr.”
Bartels received a beautiful engraved crystal bowl from the Emerald Center at the ceremony. He vows to keep doing the work for which he was honored. “They need somebody fighting for them,” he says.