Picture of boat hitting bridge

In the Shadow of Tragedy, East Coast Building Trades Workers Are Ready for Their Rebuilding Role

By Robert Fulton | contributing writer

Soon after a container ship slammed into the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore on Tuesday, March 26, causing its collapse and killing six workers, affiliate members of the Baltimore/D.C. Metro Building and Construction Trades Council were busy helping to pick up the pieces.

Laborers participated in hazardous material cleanup, and some operating engineers and electricians were also on-site in the following days. The Metro Council organized a week’s worth of lunches for Coast Guard members engaged in salvage efforts.

“We worked with our community partners to better understand who was hurt and what the effect was on both our members and the broader community,” said the Metro Council’s president, Greg Akerman.

Unfortunately, many of the cleanup contracts went to non-union bidders. Still, Akerman said the Baltimore/D.C. trades are turning their attention to the rebuilding efforts, which should lead to plenty of work-hours for members.

President Joe Biden visited the bridge collapse site in Baltimore shortly after the tragic accident.

“We’re going to move heaven and earth to rebuild this bridge as rapidly as humanly possible,” Biden said on Friday, April 5, with the wreckage visible behind him, “and we’re going to do so with union labor and American steel.”

The Baltimore-D.C. region has received its fair share of federal funding for infrastructure projects in recent years, including a $6 billion tunnel for Amtrak in Baltimore. These jobs have given the trades valuable experience to complement their workforce development programs.

“We pride ourselves in being able to provide a skilled, trained workforce that can lead to the successful delivery of any project, including projects that pop up at a moment’s notice — and this definitely falls into that category,” Akerman said, citing the region’s workforce development and apprenticeship programs as keys to the trades’ readiness.

“I would say we’re in much better shape as a result of the fact that there’s already a lot of existing federal investment that’s creating this demand for skilled labor, and that’s helping us do a lot of on-the-job training for local residents,” he said.

Six workers who were filling potholes on the Key Bridge died when it collapsed. Last month’s tragedy came one year after a speeding car crashed into a worksite on a Maryland highway, killing six construction workers who were on the job at the time.

The Key Bridge collapse provides an opportunity to talk about jobsite safety — as well as address injustices that need mending.

“These are dangerous jobs,” Akerman said, adding that the six deceased Key Bridge workers were all immigrants, a population ripe for exploitation. “We’re trying to do as much as we can to raise awareness about the dangers of the construction industry, particularly for immigrant workers.”

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