Benjamin Franklin described New Jersey as a barrel tapped at both ends, with New York on one side and Philadelphia on the other. For more than 200 years, the state has been a vital commercial conduit from east to west. Today, the larger context would show the Garden State smack in the middle of the nation’s Northeast Corridor, with more than 60 million people, from Washington DC to Boston.
New Jersey’s location, combined with its status as the nation’s most densely populated state, guarantees its importance as a transportation and logistics hub. With its web of highways, rail lines, bridges and ports, it has become ground zero for distribution channels, as witnessed by mile after mile of giant warehouses lining the New Jersey Turnpike, including one of three Amazon fulfillment centers in the state.
The operating engineers of Local 825 play an integral role in building and maintaining this infrastructure. They operate the heavy construction equipment such as cranes, bulldozers, milling and paving machines, to name a few.
“When the business community prospers, it provides work for our 7,000 members,” says Greg Lalevee, general vice president of the International Union of Operating Engineers and Business Manager of Local 825, which includes all 21 counties of New Jersey and five counties of New York state.
The union has a history of supporting business coalitions. It was an early supporter of “Build the Bridge Now,” which successfully advocated for the construction of a Tappan Zee Bridge replacement, and Choose New Jersey, which encourages businesses to locate in our state.
In 2011, Local 825 established its own labor-management organization to help stimulate economic growth. Known as ELEC – for Engineers Labor-Management Cooperative – it has grown into an active participant in more than 30 business coalitions and Chambers of Commerce in two states.
The Road to Repair
ELEC teamed with Local 825 to push for a solution to the state’s Transportation Trust Fund (TTF) crisis in 2016. Creating the “Road to Repair” initiative, it fought to bring public officials together for a compromise that would keep commerce flowing. ELEC became the largest backer of the effort in the state, which earned it the Community Impact Award bestowed by the MIDJersey Chamber of Commerce.
“Transportation infrastructure is the No. 1 job creator for our members,” Lalevee says. In July, the fund’s depletion forced a stop to construction on “non-essential” projects during the height of the construction season.
Local 825 Operating Engineers are also at work on the Hudson River bridges and in raising the Bayonne Bridge to preserve the vital economy centered around the ports of Newark and Elizabeth.
The next wave
With the TTF settlement in the rear view mirror, Local 825 is now targeting the state’s aging water infrastructure. “The state’s Water Supply Plan has not been updated in more than 20 years. That leaves us blind to issues like the presence of lead in our drinking water and deteriorating water mains,” Lalevee says.
The water lost through leaking pipes is estimated in the millions of gallons per day.
“We have to address replacement of deteriorating water mains, as well as conservation, drought management and water resource allocation,” Lalevee says.
As optimists, we hope to come together with members of the business community to tackle these challenges before – and not after – some event forces us to deal with them.