Remembering 9/11 Some 20 Years Ago: NYC Building Trades President LaBarbera Reflects On Trades Members’ “Sense of Duty To City And Nation” & How Those Trades Workers “Rose To The Occasion”
(NEW YORK CITY) - Not long after the first plane slammed into the North Tower on that otherwise tranquil September morning, Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York President Gary LaBarbera - then head of Teamsters Local 282, and his colleagues at the Union's Lake Success Offices started getting phone calls from Laborers working near the World Trade Center, alerting them to the disaster.
Within a few more minutes, when United Airlines Flight 175 punched into the South Tower, alarm turned to dread.
Within an hour, LaBarbera and his Co-Workers watched on television as both towers crumbled to the ground.
“Many of us knew people that were in the buildings,” he recounted recently.
Sixty-one Members of the Building Trades who were working inside the towers perished that day.
Through the rest of that morning and into the afternoon, an estimated 10,000 Members of the Building Trades - Ironworkers, Electrical Workers, Laborers, Operating Engineers, Truck Drivers, Masons and others - “from literally all five boroughs put their tools down” and made their way to the smoldering piles.
Once at the site, they joined with uniformed services to begin the daunting task of finding survivors.
LaBarbera and Teamsters Officials would make the 20-mile trip from Nassau County later that afternoon, forming part of a bucket brigade to help clear the initial cascade of debris.
“There was a perimeter set up, but if you showed your Union Card showing that you were a Member of the Building Trade Unions, they were letting you come right in,” he said.
All the Trades were there, forming a mini-army of vastly experienced Laborers as the rescue gathered momentum - but they were no match for the enormity of the day’s events.
“It was complete mayhem,” said LaBarbera, who also was head of Teamsters Joint Council 16 at the time.
The atmosphere was uncanny, not least because the entire area was covered in a foot and a half of gray dust, which had yet to all settle in the blocks surrounding the World Trade Center complex.
“It was almost like walking through snow,” he said of trudging to the site in his Red Wing work boots.
Walking by the Winter Garden off West Street was like ambling through “a moment frozen in time,” he said.
Half-eaten dishes of food and unfinished drinks sat untouched on nearby restaurant tables.
“It was completely surreal,” he said. “It really didn’t look real - but we knew it was real.”
While no one had trained for such an event, the Teamsters worked diligently, and exhaustively, through the following days and nights.
“We played a really important role because all of the debris that had to be removed. We were the ones actually moving it off the site with the trucks,” bringing it to what was then the Fresh Kills Landfill on Staten Island," LaBarbera said of the Teamster Drivers.
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