Industry, workers promote local area to create success
ROCHESTER, N.Y. – Companies and their owners promote the advantages of doing business with them. Unions in the construction industry talk about the skills, knowledge, abilities, and work ethic of their people.
But what happens if all this, and more, is falling on deaf ears locally? After an economic drought in a community, the available work—and jobs—decrease.
For the organized sheet metal industry in Rochester, New York, one major answer to reduced local opportunities is to go beyond promoting what the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART) local union members can do and how Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association (SMACNA) contractors help.
Together, the local SMART-SMACNA team—part of a labor-management team called Partners in Progress—supports UNiCON Rochester, a group that comprises contractors and unions from multiple trades. The idea is simple: promote the advantages of Rochester.
“There was a time when our industry had as many as 200 to 300 sheet metal workers on the site of a single local employer, Kodak. Now, typically, it’s 20 to 30. We had to do something new,” said Aaron Hilger, manager of SMACNA’s Rochester Chapter. He calls UNiCON an economic development program. “It works hand-in-glove with other organizations that are promoting this area.”
Although Troy Milne is a newly elected business manager at Sheet Metal Workers Local No. 46, UNiCON Rochester’s positive reputation preceded it.
“We all have the same goal, and that is to increase the market share and bring growth to the area,” Milne said. “We once were a very strong economic city, and I do hope we can come full circle and prosper once again with the use of union labor.”
Added Joseph Leone, president of UNiCON Rochester and retired business manager at Local No. 46: “I believe in what they’re doing. If you promote the region, everybody wins. We bring more work to the area.”
Gavin Brownlie of Crosby Brownlie, Inc., a Rochester-based sheet metal contractor, also involved with UNiCON, noted that “it enables us—the building trades and contractors, together—to speak to state and local politicians, business CEOs, and others. When they hear from UNiCON, they hear a united voice.”
Has UNiCON’s activities in the region paid off? The signs are positive.
For example, UNiCON Rochester spent two years advocating for the $157 million New York State Route 390/490/Lyell Interchange Project, which started in 2016 and will be completed in four phases. According to a New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) study, the original interchange served nearly 200,000 vehicles daily—more than the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges combined—and had higher-than-average accident rates, heavy traffic congestion and deteriorating facilities with high operational costs. Renovations will include the Lyell Avenue Bridge and renovations to northbound and southbound lanes of Interstate 390/New York State Tour 390 and Lyell Avenue.
“Obviously, it’s a substantial construction project, but a second equally significant benefit is that the improvement of this highway will enhance and support the transportation needs to two large regional manufacturing parks,” Leone said. “Growth within these parks will spur major construction opportunities for all of our buildings and construction trades partners, including our SMACNA contractors.”
Even before the state budget was set, it was necessary to convince local community leaders to secure the necessary funding. In spring 2016 UNiCON partnered with the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce and held a three-hour Infrastructure Forum and Press Conference for more than 60 local legislators, contractors, employers, engineers and other industry professionals.
“We are confident that our efforts and the efforts of everyone in the room that day played a role in securing the special funding status needed,” Leone said.
In another success, UNiCON worked with decision makers to not only obtained bonding for the Rochester Schools Modernization Program, but also the organization worked with state officials to include a project labor agreement (PLA) and apprenticeship. Although air conditioning was not in the original plan, UNiCON lobbied with school district administrators to make it a reality in five schools and one building, allowing districts to host a longer academic day and school year. In total, more than 60 schools underwent renovations.
“This work provided many thousands of hours to local SMACNA contractors and Local No. 46 sheet metal workers,” Leone said.
“We have a mission to develop opportunities and economic incentives for local contractors, developers and businesses,” Leone added. “It’s just trying to make connections. That’s what we do.”
The International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART) and the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association (SMACNA) have a labor-management partnership that is more than 75 years old. The goal of these Partners in Progress is to maintain an effective cooperative effort that demonstrates expertise in the industrial and architectural sheet metal and heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) markets.