3 min read March 2022 — Celebrating their 100 year anniversary, Business Manager Greg Lalevee of Operating Engineers Local 825 shared with Invest: how it has been a “great opportunity to reflect” on their history. “We touch the lives of everyday people,” he stated. He discussed the projects and aspects of the work environment that embody evolution of the industry.
What were the highlights for the past year?
We recently improved New Jersey’s infrastructure by rebuilding water reservoirs as needed in the region. We initiated the build of the region’s most recent turnpike and eliminated a series of traffic lights. We raised the Bayonne Bridge which is the epicenter of jobs in Northern New Jersey. We’re working to modernize the gas distribution system. The SNJ windport is breaking ground. The new portal bridge will be constructed. The Hudson Rail Tunnels were recently raised making it eligible for federal funds.
What are the key opportunities and challenges you are strategizing around?
It’s all about the opportunities. We advertised applications for our next apprentice class, making 250 applications available, using an online portal to accept applications. Our applications were gone within 22 minutes. We’re an occupation that people want to gain experience in. We can get people excited which hasn’t been an issue for operating engineers. We’ve been licensed as a technical college and we’re also having discussions of having a two-year associates degree in tandem with our apprenticeship class. We’ve had conversations with other institutions of higher learning like Hudson Community College to partner with one another. We believe there are ways we can collaborate and build synergies, creating programs that reflect how work will be in the future. We want to educate people on the sophisticated software that continues to develop, preparing people to program computers of the future. It creates a more productive employee.
What will be impacted by the Federal Infrastructure Bill?
The infrastructure bill will offer boundless opportunities from combined sewer overflow and upgrading our water lines, both of which are environmental concerns. Building Hudson rail tunnels is a major project of significance as 30% of the nation’s GDP travels along that corridor. The property values of New Jersey will shift which is fantastic news. The Route 3 Bridge will be replaced which adjusts the choke points on our roads as they have lost productivity. We also have to address our broadband needs as we’ve had to shift our education to an online format.
What legislative initiatives and regulations are you following?
We’re watching the governor’s Energy Masterplan and if it becomes codified by law. There are certain components of the masterplan that will be difficult to execute in a short span of time. The transition to full electrification isn’t entirely feasible within the current timeframe. Germany is a prime example as they’re hoping for mild winter, but hope is not a solution. You have to have resources readily available to meet the needs of the people.
What new program offerings are members asking for?
We teach what our craft is using our training programs. We teach the proper methods and safety measures to create a safe environment for the public sector. In the construction industry, it offers companies flexibility and accessibility to highly skilled individuals. Our members expect us to be constant advocates for infrastructure, leaning into the companies that we work with. The challenge of a unionized construction worker is having a career based on short term jobs. We have to ensure that projects remain in the pipeline as well as that our DOT is ready to receive federal dollars. County and municipal projects need to be ready prior to receiving funds so we can execute projects as soon as we’re able.
What are the distinguishing characteristics of the New Jersey market?
New Jersey receives complaints about the cost of the roads, comparing a mile of road being built in the state to a mile of road in Wyoming. Each are totally different situations when discussing land acquisitions, working in congested areas, and working high speed traffic. When construction is completed in highly congested areas with high property values, much of the infrastructure is built into the ground. We built the infrastructure while communities existed in these areas while other parts of the country have had the benefit of masterplanning. We work in a set of conditions that is different from most parts of the country. When examining the watering system, it’s easier to replace a water main on a planned schedule versus having a catastrophe that causes issues for everyone involved. We’re the most densely populated entity in the entire state of New Jersey. We have to plan and execute those plans well to prevent those problems.
What are the key differences between pre- and post-pandemic and what is your near term outlook?
We have become accustomed to working remotely, so it will be interesting how businesses identify their next generation of leaders. There will be workers who won’t enter the office, making it difficult to gauge their social skills and ability to engage with others. You won’t be able to choose a leader based off of a spreadsheet. As we emerge from the pandemic, we’ll see people return to the office as a way to identify the next generation of leaders. It isn’t impossible, but it isn’t the best format to gauge those soft skills in an in-person environment.
I’m firmly positive about our outlook for the year. We’ve expanded the membership of our union by 20% over the last ten years with more infrastructure and other opportunities coming our way. It allows more people to enter a middle class lifestyle. We’re looking forward to a five-year period of incremental growth.
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