A third-generation heat-and-frost insulator in the labor movement, Matthew Aracich, who was elected president of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Nassau & Suffolk Counties, AFL-CIO three years ago, was involved in green energy before the term was coined.
“We were actually called asbestos workers,” he says. “Our whole goal was to make sure that the energy efficiency was at the optimum level and on top of that, whenever you had condensation, we would prevent mold and mildew. These were all things that we did prior to the introduction of plastics.”
His family has been a part of the industry’s changeover the past century. And now, he is preparing his union’s membership for changes that will help shape the next century.
Who is it that your union represents? I represent 65,000 hard-working skilled tradesmen and tradeswomen throughout Long Island. These are 36 different affiliates, which means that these locals are independent and have a vote on the board. We represent the iron workers, the carpenters, bricklayers, plumbers, plasterers, steamfitters, masons, electricians, operating engineers, teamsters, and the like. The goal of the president is to ensure that economic development is key to what the job is, which means that we are the liaison between labor, management, development, and the county or the towns or any municipality. We are the advocates for labor. We want to make sure that everything is a level playing field.
How do you do that? Our strongest advocacy is for safety. Do you know how many people die in construction in New York? One every five days. It’s an astounding number. What if that was a child? What if that was a judge? What if that was a police officer or teacher? Those are not typically union people. They are predominantly of Hispanic heritage and they are throughout the state. The problem here is employers actually use them as a tool. They’re easily replaced. If something happens, they’ll get another. They leverage them against all odds, which means that they’ll attempt to either call [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] or say, ‘I’m going to deport you.’
What trends are you seeing? There is a new focus on new energy. That’s offshore energy, that’s solar, and even the introduction of new technology such as hydrogen fuels is something that’s actually a blossoming industry. We’re moving toward a green economy. There’s a social justice component. When people are displaced from work due to changing of policies such as reduction or elimination of fossil fuels, they have to go somewhere. To create a new opportunity, such as with the offshore wind, the new opportunity has to include men and women of color and diverse communities and disadvantaged communities.
How so? We get a bad rep for everything from saying we’re too white or not inclusive. And that’s nonsense. You’ll see that our apprentice programs, some of them are more than 72 percent minorities. The opportunity is there for all.
How has membership changed over the years? Long Island is actually in a growth phase and one of the reasons is because people moved from the city and relocated to Long Island. The industries and the businesses, they’re all starting to flourish, which is a great thing.
What else would you like readers to know? When it comes to wages, it’s difficult to live on Long Island without a good job. We have been having — and I hate to use these words — a brain drain. In Nassau County, 47 percent or so of those with a bachelor’s degree or higher are not working in their field or not working at all. That’s intolerable. The opportunity that we have for us, we’re at the beginning of opportunity for everyone else. Build it and they will come. That’s why we build the infrastructure projects. Infrastructure is one of the key components in relocating businesses, franchises, new technologies, and creating more opportunities for homes.
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