South Jersey hopes pinned on Paulsboro port

Just across the Delaware River are the runways for Philadelphia International Airport, uncharacteristically quiet in this time of COVID-19.

This is the port where a company called EEW will soon begin building a factory to make the gigantic monopiles that hold up offshore wind turbines.

Ørsted North America, which is building the state’s first offshore wind farm about 15 miles southeast of Atlantic City in federal waters, has a contract with EEW to make the structures. EEW has said it will provide 500 union jobs here.

Those jobs represent the start of a new industry that has promised thousands of high-paying jobs to people who live throughout South Jersey, where the median income lags that of the state as a whole.

 

Energy from offshore wind is going to be expensive, said state Senate President Steve Sweeney, who worked for decades to make the port a reality, along with Assemblyman John Burzichelli, D-Salem, Gloucester, Cumberland, and the Gloucester County Improvement Authority.

“If New Jersey ratepayers are going to be paying for that, there needs to be a benefit with jobs,” said Sweeney, a former ironworker who did precast structural steel work like building bridges.
 

People are counting on that influx of good paying jobs throughout South Jersey. There are plans that the sections made here will be put together into 400-foot-tall monopiles by as many as 1,500 workers at the New Jersey Wind Port to be built in Salem County; and that Atlantic County will be the center of hundreds more jobs in constructing the wind turbines, maintaining and servicing them.

Ørsted won a competition to build the state’s first 1,100 megawatts of offshore wind generation, in part by promising economic development for the state. Ratepayers will subsidize the construction and running of the farm for 20 years.
 

“This is the first major new port on the Delaware in 50 years,” said George Strachan, executive director of the GCIA. “There has been a bigger vision here” that has taken decades to come to reality.

It used to be a vacant brownfields site, the leftovers of a former oil tank farm and other industrial uses.

“It looked like a moon filled with craters,” Burzichelli said. “We raised it up 11 feet, for a 100-year flood.”

At a cost of about $400 million, the South Jersey Port Corp. has created a modern port with room for manufacturing facilities, and the union jobs they bring.

It has built a special dock on pilings, as required by the state Department of Environmental Protection, with two berths for ships on the river and one on Mantua Creek.

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Recognizing Ironworkers in Need

A review of last year’s work hours by area and market sector reveal a wide spectrum of differences in membership and financial gains and losses. The effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on local unions varied greatly, with some having no job disruption and others having job cancellations and delays. The pandemic brought on a time uncertainty for members, contractors, builders and developers.

As the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020, the Iron Workers worked to establish benefits for the unemployed and underemployed. We researched and advocated for support for our employers to provide the necessary guidance and personal protective equipment (PPE) to keep our members safe on the job site. The coronavirus’s unknowns and newness led to provincial, state and federal governments offering practical and impractical solutions, some resulting in job-site productivity issues. In selected cases, ironworker jobs became more hazardous, navigating normal tasks while wearing the prescribed PPE while working aloft and using heavy equipment and tools. Transport, ingress and egress, change shacks, shanty access and break area protocols were modified to accommodate COVID-19 practices.

Unfortunately, I am saddened to report the death of some of our brother and sister ironworkers from the coronavirus. Our hearts go out to the families affected by this terrible disease, especially our active and retired members and their families who lost loved ones. We grieve with you. 

Every year the Iron Workers restate and rededicate to the goal of the eradication of worksite injuries and fatalities from our industry. It is no different this year. In 2021, please commit to making safety your first and last thought—make the health and safety of yourself and your coworkers a priority. Protecting ourselves from COVID-19 is a new challenge, but one we are indeed capable of meeting. 

A disturbing trend surfaced in the last year across the construction industry, regrettably involving iron-workers at a higher rate—a startling increase in deaths related to suicide. These deaths exceed the number of COVID-19 and worksite fatalities. As general president, I struggle with the report of each member fatality. I question each and every action. I want to know what more can be done to protect our members. If you have ever had the misfortune of witnessing a job-site fatality, I feel your pain. As an ironworker, I witnessed the death of a tradesman from a different craft on a project. It still haunts me today, a lingering, constant memory of what-ifs. It fuels my devotion to keep ironworkers safe, to achieve zero fatalities and injuries

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Labor Legend Trumka Passes Away

We are deeply saddened to inform you that our brother and leader Rich Trumka passed away this morning at the age of 72. He was doing what he loved, spending time with his family, celebrating his grandson’s birthday. 

Rich was a legend, from his early days as president of the United Mine Workers of America to his unparalleled leadership as the voice of America’s labor movement. Rich loved workers. And he knew there was nothing more powerful than workers standing together for a better life. 

If you ever watched Rich at a rally or on a picket line, his face would light up with excitement and hope. He never forgot who he was working for. He never forgot who he was fighting for. America’s working people were his guiding light for more than 50 years. 

Rich also believed in the power of a unified labor movement. At the 2017 AFL-CIO Convention, he reminded us: “That’s what our movement has always been about—we’re in this movement for workers and our families. That’s why I fought for a better and more secure life for coal miners and why I ran for office. It is what drives me today.  Our labor movement is more unified, more focused, more fiscally sound…because of the work we’ve done together. Now we’re ready to write the next chapter. Because no matter what we hear from the naysayers, we ain’t done yet.”

We are not done yet. Rich would never allow it. 

Now more than ever, we must come together, as one federation, to carry out the mission Rich devoted his life to. That’s how we honor his legacy.

See the AFL-CIO press release.