On Monday all 500 coveted job applications for Local Union 46, the metallic lathers and reinforcing ironworkers union, were out the door. About 600 men and a dozen women slept on the union's premises on 61st Street and 32nd Avenue in Woodside, some since April 24, for a chance at an apprenticeship position with decent pay and benefits.
“I'm a veteran trying to get a job just like the next man,” James Pinchback III of Brooklyn said. Pinchback’s cousin and aunt work for the union.
Though 500 applications were handed out only 50 apprentice positions are available.
Candidates take an aptitude test administered by the Department of Labor. Each person will be placed in a first, second or third tier. Applicants also take a manual dexterity and drug test, and do an interview in which they must demonstrate their willingness to work, according to Bill Hohlfeld, coordinator of the Local 46 labor management cooperative trust.
“It’s a physically grueling job,” Hohlfeld said.
“This is a career worthy of a wait. You have to bust your hump, but it’s worth it,” said Andrew Vilbig of upstate Rockland County, who slept at the union since Thursday.
Apprentices start at $18 an hour. These workers learn from the men and women who know the trade, while on the job, as well as take one night class a week.
At the end of a three-year period, apprentices will make about $49 an hour, according to Hohlfeld.
These union workers who reinforce concrete with metal and plaster with metal lath do not receive paid vacations, sick leave or holiday pay. Also, sometimes there are two-week gaps between jobs, Hohlfeld said. Therefore the average New York City building tradesmen makes about $70,000 a year.
“It’s a young man’s job,” said Hohlfeld. “You work real hard for $70,000.”
After six months, apprentices receive medical benefits and a perk similar to a 401(k). These ironworkers also earn a pension based on the number of years they worked.
One neighbor, who wished to stay anonymous, said the mass has left a lot a trash on the street and “they were drinking in public; it wasn’t orange juice,” he said.
“It can get a little rowdy, but that’s what happens,” said Joe Dichristina, an ironworker from Rockland County who slept at Local 46 since Wednesday. “But people were respectful. It would be stupid to mess this opportunity up.”
The union constantly monitored the mass, as well as fed and provided the group with bathrooms, said Hohlfeld.
“Can I tell you there was never a problem — no. But we spent a lot of time monitoring. and told them repeatedly there would be no drinking,” said Hohlfeld. “Overall, people were very well-behaved. These were people trying to look like people who want to work, who want an opportunity to support themselves.”
“They don’t drink here. They are here to get a job,” said a police officer, who was one of several on the scene.