Q&A With Peter Myers of Ironworkers Local 580: Jobsite Safety in the Covid-19 Era

As we mark nearly six months into the U.S. pandemic, Metals in Construction spent time talking with Peter Myers, Business Manager and Financial Secretary-Treasurer of Ironworkers Local 580, on how the union’s workers have navigated safety requirements, new protocols, and communication during this time.

In the early stages of the virus, many Local 580 Ironworkers were considered “essential workers” and reported to job sites in the city every day. Given your overriding concern for their safety and that of their families (which you expressed to authorities early on), how have they fared? Can you share any anecdotes about family, onsite relationships, etc.?

Obviously, we were very concerned about having our members going back to these job sites, not only for their own well-being but also for the families that they go home to. There was a lot of concern about how these jobs would open up and what our men and women would be walking into. That being said, we were deemed essential workers so jobs remained open. We had to man the jobs and our workers stepped up. They went to work, they were diligent and they remained professional.

We did have some positive Covid tests and they were dealt with immediately. Thank God they have all recovered and are all back at work. The first month it was nerve-wracking, sending men and women back to work when you were not 100% sure it was a safe environment. It found its own level where our members policed themselves. Our members also took precautions off the job, as not to bring this virus home with them. They would change out of their work clothes before returning home and would wash up as best as possible.

What requirements did the city and state implement for construction work to ensure Covid-19 safety and how have they affected working conditions for Journeymen and Apprentices?

Members of Ironworkers Local 580 practice social distancing on a jobsite hoist.

There were safety protocols set up through the CDC, in which the NYC Building Trades incorporated and expanded upon to come up with the Covid-19 remobilization plan. The main concern of this plan was to send our members back to a safe jobsite. Some of the protocols put in place were staggered start time for all the trades on the job, social distancing on the hoist that brings the men and women up to work, reducing the amount of people gathering in the common areas and sanitizing the jobsite every night.

Given that ironworkers train to upgrade their skills and certifications throughout their careers, has Ironworker training been able to keep pace during the pandemic?

We have done some online training with our Apprentices. As far as our Journeymen upgrading program, that has been put on hold due to the fact most of the Journeymen upgrading is hands on. We closed our training facility at the onset of this pandemic.

Did you get any pushback from subcontractors to skirt the rules at jobsites?

No, I have to say our employers have been great throughout all of this. There has been a tremendous amount of communication between us and our employers, most of it positive. The few times we disagreed on things, we found an amicable solution.

With regard to the effect of the pandemic on field operations, how have you noticed teams adjusting their work procedures to maintain the productivity and workmanship they are known for?

Under new regulations, workers conduct frequent equipment cleaning on the jobsite.

It was actually impressive to watch how all the trades worked together. We are on a floor with other trades and everybody was doing what they were supposed to do as far as social distancing, mask wearing, and sanitizing. Everything found its own way of working itself out. I am sure in the beginning it was not as easy as I am saying it is, but I never got a call that anything was an impediment on the job. Everybody understood the only way this was going to work was for us to be all on the same page, moving in the same direction. It was impressive to watch.

Are the same requirements still in place now?

Everything is still in place and they seem to be working. The men and women are adapting to it and now it is the new normal.

Were material deliveries affected substantially by the pandemic?

Yes. Early on, it was difficult scheduling deliveries. In some cases, the vendors you would normally use were either not operational or low on inventory. In other cases, the deliveries were coming from overseas, which as you can imagine, caused a whole other set of challenges. But, as of today, I have to say the supply chain has improved drastically.

Were there other ways in which the project team—the trades, owner reps, architects, engineers—had to work differently to be effective?

As you know, during normal times there are a lot of jobsite meetings, bringing all the interested parties up to speed on the progress of the job. During this pandemic, all of these meetings were held virtually, which was different for everyone involved. That said, people adapted to the new way of doing business and continue to do their jobs in a professional manner.

Foremen relay crucial information from daily Zoom meetings to workers onsite.

Given the likely duration of Covid-19, how do you see changes in weather conditions (hurricane season, winter, etc.) affecting the protocols for field operations in the coming months?

The winter months are hard enough in our industry. The men and women are out there dealing with the elements, so the winter on its own poses hardships for us. But nobody knows how the weather is going to affect Covid-19. As far as the protocols that are in place, I do not see them changing at all. If anything, I believe they will get improved upon. I think our men and women will remain professional no matter what the weather conditions are and do their best to get the job done.

What’s your impression of how the designers, construction managers, and general contractors have been affected?

The whole industry is kind of on pause, waiting to see where we end up after all is said and done. Nobody is really sure what the future holds in the real estate industry.

Is there anything else would you like to add to this discussion?

I would like to mention that all the safety protocols that were put into place by the NYC Building Trades and management were done so with the sole intent of keeping all our members safe and healthy. This was done in a very short period of time and shows that when Organized Labor and management work together, there is nothing that we cannot accomplish.