“Infrastructure” has been quite the buzz word since President Biden took office, and with over $220 billion announced in Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) funding, the historic investment represents massive potential across various industries. The Biden-Harris Administration has been intent on delivering an “infrastructure decade,” with major projects in the works to replace, rebuild, create, and improve the nation’s aging infrastructure systems.
Seeing as Northeast Maglev is spearheading a massive infrastructure project – the Superconducting Maglev (SCMAGLEV) train – it goes without saying that we, too, prioritize investing in our nation’s infrastructure. In fact, we have been in longstanding partnerships with local, regional, and national labor and union groups, as we are optimistic about the widespread benefits that will spawn as a result of these collaborations. The SCMAGLEV will not only provide a substantial amount of construction jobs, but it will also create the need for unique and specialized labor and training. The SCMAGLEV will be a pioneer in our nation’s true high-speed rail industry, and because it relies on highly advanced technology, our partnerships with unions allow for unprecedented, reliable apprenticeship pipelines to develop. We value our relationships with these organizations because they facilitate high-quality work and safety standards, while providing dependable career and education paths to local communities.
Today, we are focusing on just one of our partners, LiUNA (the Laborers’ International Union of North America), to get a better idea of what these training pipelines look like and how these groups represent the foundation (literally!) of our nation’s infrastructure. Check out our interview with Steve Lanning, LiUNA Local 11 Business Manager, and thank you to LiUNA for all of the insight!
- How do LiUNA apprenticeship programs prepare individuals for successful careers? What can make them advantageous when compared to a traditional education model?
LiUNA operates 70 affiliated training centers across the United States, including two in Maryland – one in Baltimore City, and the other in Prince George’s County. LiUNA apprentices, regardless of experience, immediately begin to earn a wage while learning on-the-job and in the classroom. Compared to getting a costly college education with no guarantee of a job and student loans to pay off, a construction apprenticeship program like LiUNA’s provides a solid career and pathway to the middle class with no college debt because union apprenticeship programs are free.Moreover, LiUNA’s apprenticeship program for construction craft laborers can be completed in two years; the programs for other trades typically take four to five years to complete. That means a LiUNA apprentice will graduate and attain the journey worker rate of pay far more quickly. LiUNA apprentices are required to complete a minimum of 300 hours of classroom instruction and hands-on training at one of LiUNA’s apprenticeship centers. An additional 4,000 hours of on-the-job training is also required to complete the apprenticeship program.LiUNA offers two apprenticeship tracks – one for commercial construction, and one for residential. Opportunities in commercial construction range from working on buildings, bridges, roads and tunnels and protecting the environment by removing hazardous materials, to building pipelines and using the latest technologies in green construction. Residential construction focuses on the many aspects of home building and energy efficiency.Our Maryland locations will enable LiUNA to recruit and train residents along the planned SCMAGLEV corridor, a project which will create thousands of quality union construction jobs.
- What makes infrastructure projects, like those funded by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, so promising for union jobs? How do these projects benefit the general public, and can you provide an example of a current project that LiUNA is proud to be a part of?
The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL), signed by the President on November 15, 2021, creates a historic investment in our nation’s aging infrastructure. It will generate an estimated 800,000 good-paying jobs and boost the share of infrastructure jobs in the US economy from 11 percent to 14 percent. The growth in the number of infrastructure jobs will in turn spur growth in the number of union jobs in infrastructure-related industries like manufacturing, construction, and transportation. The BIL also allocates funding for workforce development programs in the trades where workers will be most needed, which benefits the general public. The majority of the jobs in these industries are highly skilled and workers need an opportunity to develop their skills. Apprenticeships are one of the primary tools used to encourage workers to learn trade-specific skills to get good jobs, which is why expanding those types of programs is a key provision in the BIL.In the Baltimore-Washington area, LiUNA is especially proud of the roles it has played in the construction of DC Water’s combined-sewer overflow tunnels and DDOT’s Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge. DC Water’s Blue Plains Tunnel, which racked up 1.6 million work-hours with no lost-time accidents, was the recipient of ENR’s 2017 Tunnel Achievement Award for Project Excellence. DC Water’s Anacostia Tunnel, which came in $13 million under budget, received ENR’s 2018 Tunnel Award of Merit. The construction of the Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge, the District’s biggest infrastructure project in modern history, was completed several weeks early. At least 200 DC residents were hired to build the bridge, many of whom were trained by LiUNA.
- With increasing nationwide interest in renewable energy sources, is LiUNA focusing on expanding training within any particular industry?
LiUNA has been working in the renewable energy field for more than a decade, building renewable energy systems across the United States and Canada. The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, which offers funding, programs, and incentives to accelerate the transition to a clean energy economy, will drive construction of new clean electricity resources. To help build solar, wind, and geothermal power plants, LiUNA training now goes beyond traditional construction craft laborer tasks to include setting up racking systems for photovoltaic modules, manufacturing the mirrors for concentrating solar power systems, and assembling photovoltaic systems.
- Can you describe the different branches of LiUNA that encourage diversity & inclusion in the industry, such as the LiUNA Women’s Caucus? What are some of the unique programs or projects that these groups focus on to elevate equity in the industry?
LiUNA has three caucuses to promote diversity among construction craft laborers — the LiUNA African American Caucus, the LiUNA Women’s Caucus, and the LiUNA Latino Caucus. The caucuses were founded in 2003; their mission is to educate and grow union affiliation, and find innovative and inclusive ways to increase LiUNA’s market share, which in turn benefits all LiUNA members.The African American Caucus (AAC) is especially focused on electing local, state and national leaders who align with LiUNA’s values. For example, the AAC proudly took part in flipping Virginia blue in 2019 by encouraging the African-American community to vote. That year, fifty-eight AAC members traveled to Chesapeake, VA two weekends before the election to remind residents to use their vote as their voice. Signaling the value of having union caucuses that target specific cultural alliances in the community, two union friendly candidates in Chesapeake won their races.A primary focus of the Women’s Caucus is health and safety issues that impact tradeswomen, and working to address them. For example, the vast majority of personal protection equipment (PPE), including respirators, fall protection harnesses, gloves and safety goggles are still designed with men in mind. Ill-fitting PPE puts tradeswomen at risk for caught-on/in/between hazards and health hazards.The Latino Caucus also aims to assist with getting out the vote in key local, state, and national elections. It also focuses on immigration and advocating for comprehensive immigration reform so there is no underclass of workers that employers can use to drive down wages and working conditions.At LiUNA, we are proud that union leadership recognized the need to found these caucuses 20 years ago, and each caucus regularly meets during LiUNA leadership conferences as well as virtually throughout the year.
- What does the SCMAGLEV project mean for LiUNA?
The SCMAGLEV project is an exciting one for LiUNA because building a rail system creates significant work hours for construction laborers. For example, the first leg of the SCMAGLEV between Baltimore and Washington, DC will generate 74,000 construction jobs [in Maryland] and add $6.5 billion to our local economy [in Maryland]. In addition, the SCMAGLEV team has committed to building this project with union labor, which means that the jobs created will be quality ones that provide family health insurance and a pension. Because the SCMAGLEV is a long-term project, it will provide years of steady union employment for construction workers–a definite pathway to the middle class.