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“When President Biden Announced His Plans, For Us To Hear That - It Was Nirvana” - Infrastructure Bill Viewed ‘As A Boon For’ Labor Unions

Published Friday, September 24, 2021
by Jake Blumgart/
“When President Biden Announced His Plans, For Us To Hear That - It Was Nirvana” - Infrastructure Bill Viewed ‘As A Boon For’ Labor Unions

(SPRINGFIELD, NEW JERSEY) - Greg Lalevee is standing in the midst of a truly epic collection of construction equipment at his Union’s Training Center, just off the New Jersey Turnpike.  This former sand mine, which his Union uses to train workers in construction equipment, is bristling with cranes, pile drivers and dozens of other pieces of heavy machinery, but before showing off a construction arsenal vast enough to raise a skyscraper on the spot, Lalevee is enthusing about his Union’s good fortune as Congress finally pays attention to infrastructure.

“When President Biden announced his plans, for us to hear that - it was nirvana,” says Lalevee, Business Manager of New Jersey’s Operating Engineers Local 825. “You need the free flow of goods.  With the rise of Amazon and Internet shopping, trucking is more important than ever.  You're going to need these bridges, highways and byways.  We'll see the resurgence of rail too.”

Lalevee is not saying this from the position of a Democratic partisan.

Unlike many Labor Leaders in America, he plays both sides of the fence.

Local 825’s Training Center was the site of an endorsement rally for Republican Governor Chris Christie’s re-election in 2013 and for Democratic Governor Phil Murphy in 2017.

For Lalevee, and many of his allies in the New Jersey Building Trades, it's a question of who has the power to help their Members keep working.

The head of Local 825 is a gregarious and well-liked fixture of New Jersey politics and he’s also part of an increasingly tenuous tradition in the Building Trades Union Movement.

In the Northeast and Midwest, these Unions often allied with moderate Republicans and moderate Democrats alike to advance the interests of their Members and the industries that employed them.

“Infrastructure has never been a partisan issue,” Lalevee said.

Historically, Lalevee is right: Everyone likes building roads.

But today, the political middle ground is shrinking rapidly.

That leaves Building Trades Unions in a tricky position.

“They tend to be really pragmatic on their politics, they're not ideologically driven,” says Todd Vachon, Professor of Labor Studies at Rutgers University. “At least in the Northeast, there are some Republicans at the local level that are more moderate.  But since the rise of Trump, we've seen it's more difficult (for Construction Unions) to work with Republicans.”

Lalevee insists that he is staying away from increasingly polarized ideological positions and keeps his focus on what he views as “old school,” transactional politics.

For him, the $500 billion infrastructure deal working its way through Congress, stuffed with work for his Members, is the epitome of that vanishing tradition.

Lalevee’s Operating Engineers will be at the literal cutting edge of one of its keystone objectives: the $22 billion Gateway Project. His Members will be piloting the massive tunnel boring machines that will tunnel beneath the Hudson River.

“Your Rank-and-File Building Trade guy leans a little right of center,” Lalevee said. “But President Biden understands that infrastructure creates jobs.  He understands there has to be collaboration between the sides.  To have him in Building Trade Union Halls talking about these things is old school politics, politics that in the past has worked.”

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