New York, NY – “Building the City is what we do,” proudly declares Thomas A. Callahan, President and Business Manager of the 5,000-member strong IUOE Local 15, 15A, 15B, 15C, 15D, 15G & 15H, on the union’s website. Local 15 builds the highways, the bridges, the tunnels, the skyscrapers, housing, schools, airports and subways, among many others. “Cities don’t just happen,” is another takeaway.

IUOE Local 15 Apprentice Thomas Gallagher is one of the those working to make the city happen. As a LaborPress 2024 Apprentice of the Year, he shared what skills he has learned, what excites him in his work, his family union connections, and much more.

At 24-years-old, he hails from Long Island, where he still resides. He started his apprenticeship in 2021, and is currently in his 3rd year of the four-year program. He expresses no qualms about the long hours needed to complete the program – 6000 in total.

“We have two class days a week at our training center, learning both out in the field and inside the classroom,” he tells LaborPress.

He adds:

“I’ve gained so many different skills over the course of the apprenticeship. I’ve learned how to weld and cut steel, and learned how to maintain and service engines along with other components of equipment we are responsible for.  The instructors in our program do an excellent job teaching not only the classroom side of these skills but also help us to translate what we learn into the real world in our welding and equipment shops.  My favorite part has been learning to operate all the different kinds of heavy equipment. I’ve learned to run everything from skid steers, backhoes and bulldozers, to large wheel loaders, excavators and cranes.  We are taught the basic theory behind performing the tasks best suited to each machine, like digging trench, cutting grade, etc., and then are given the time, supervision, and repetitions inside the machines to become better operators.

“I’ve enjoyed the challenge of getting to learn so many different things over such a short amount of time. I am fortunate to have had some experience working with motors before starting the apprenticeship so I feel it was easier for me to learn the mechanical side of the program, but I had no background in welding, or running any sort of heavy equipment.  It helped me greatly how methodical our instructors are with how new skills are taught, and the biggest thing has been spending time in the seat becoming comfortable controlling and running the machines.”

Gallagher is currently working on the Van Wyck Expressway expansion project 40+ hours a week. He says, “On most days I get to work alongside my Maintenance Foreman, troubleshooting and diagnosing issues on any of the dozens of pieces of equipment and machines, performing preventative maintenance, and getting hands on experience running equipment with many of the experienced operators on the jobsite. The opportunity to be around so many different processes like foundational drilling, pile driving, earth moving, bridge construction, and utility work has been invaluable to me.  I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity to work alongside so many great operating engineers, both at this job and at previous jobs I’ve been on. I’m grateful to all of those who have taken me under their wing and taught me so much over the last three years.”

LaborPress asked Gallagher why he chose this particular career path.

“I feel that this career path chose me, and how could I not want to work with the big toys! I had tried going the traditional college education path, pursuing a degree in mechanical engineering after high school, but it was not right for me. I left college and returned home, shortly after my aunt sent me a newspaper article about the apprenticeship with Local 15.  I put my name in for the lottery system to apply, and was insanely fortunate to have been accepted to the program.  Since starting the apprenticeship I have enjoyed every moment, and looking back I truly cannot see myself in any career other than this.”

Gallagher also comes from a union background in his family.

“My grandfather Ed St. John was, and many of my uncles and cousins still are, union IronWorkers with Local 40 in NYC. My grandfather was a huge inspiration to me growing up. I remember the thrill I felt thinking how my grandfather helped build major landmarks around the city like the Verrazano Bridge, and now thinking how his career with a union helped support his family excites me for the potential to do the same when I start my own family.”

Gallagher appreciates the “variety of different activities we participate in.” He goes on to say,  “I’m confident in my skills operating many different kinds of equipment, and hope to have the opportunity to run, and to continue learning and expanding my abilities inside the cab of many different machines throughout my career.  I also enjoy getting to turn a wrench performing maintenance, and the challenge that comes along with fixing diagnosing problems with equipment that continues to get more and more complex.”

When asked why he thinks he was chosen for the Apprentice Award, Gallagher had this to say:

“There are so many other great apprentices in our program that I have the privilege to work and learn with, so I’m amazed to have received this award.  I always strive to maintain a respectful and positive attitude and focus on continuing to always do what is asked of me the best that I can, and to do what is right.  I truly enjoy and try to have fun with what I am doing, and want to thank all of the instructors, operating engineers I’ve worked with and my training director. I’m humbled to be recognized for my efforts; it’s truly an honor to receive this award.”

Thomas Gallagher


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