Looking, locally, for workers to build

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Looking, locally, for workers to build

Story and photos by Robin Elisabeth Kilmer

Columbia University recently hosted a job fair for union construction workers at the Riverbank State Park.

Columbia University recently hosted a job fair
for union construction workers at the Riverbank
State Park.

Calling all local construction workers.

Columbia University needs your help.

The university hosted a job fair at Riverbank State Park this past Tues., Aug. 21st.

This is the second such job fair hosted by Columbia.

There are several projects in the works and the University hopes to fill 20 percent of job slots with workers within the zip codes contained within the geographical area designated as the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone (UMEZ).

Projects include restoration of a five-story building to serve as a student living and learning center, renovation of computer facilities, and a Boathouse Marsh project which will increase public access to Columbia’s waterfront properties at West 218 Street and Indian Road. The project will restore and extend the area’s native marshland.

Also on the table is new 12-story building on West 148th and Broadway that will contain affordable housing units.

The building will also house the Meeting with God Church and will incorporate three green roofs.
Christopher Viola, project executive of SKANSKA, the construction group that will be working with Columbia, was enthusiastic about Tuesday’s job fair.

“SKANSKA is committed to ensuring that people live in the neighborhood are working on our projects,” said project executive Christopher Viola.

“SKANSKA is committed to ensuring
that people live in the neighborhood
are working on our projects,” said
project executive Christopher Viola.

“SKANSKA is committed to ensuring that people live in the neighborhood are working on our projects. Working with Columbia today was a fantastic opportunity and we are really excited about it,” he said.

Other SKANSKA projects include the renovation of the Brooklyn, Williamsburg and Manhattan Bridges, and the Fulton Street Transit Center.

SKANSKA will be building a steel oculus at the terminal as well.

Columbia also rounded up eight trade contractors not involved in its projects to partake in the job fair.

The University, which has drawn criticism from some quarters for displacing Harlem families with its various construction projects in the area, signed a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) with the West Harlem Local Development Corporation to support the expansion of educational, cultural, health care and civic programs that would include the Harlem community.

Still, Beth Miller, SKANSKA’s manager of communications, said that the job fair was not related to the agreement, but, in fact, an independent effort to recruit local workers.

“There’s no state directive or state minimum that we have to hit, but we want to be as aggressive as possible. We know that this is a tried and true way of reaching out to people in the community,” she said.

For construction workers, for whom most job searches can often require trips to the job site or waiting for a call from the union, the job fair was a welcome change; hundreds of workers came to Riverbank Park.

Michelle Brigman enjoyed the job fair hosted by Columbia University: “We all have a common goal, and we’re sharing our experiences.”

Michelle Brigman enjoyed the job
fair hosted by Columbia University:
“We all have a common goal, and
we’re sharing our experiences.”

Carlos Alvarez of Local 79 who lives a few blocks from the park, waited patiently for his turn for interviews.

“I was laid off last week, so I’ve been going to shape-ins since Monday. I hope I can talk to everybody here,” said Alvarez.

While Alvarez prefers working on hospitals, high-rises and other long-term construction projects, he said he did not plan on being picky about job offers.

“It doesn’t matter, as long as the money is there and as long as the checks are there,” he said.

A member of the same union had been off the job for three months and spoke to four contractors.

“Nothing confirmed, nothing denied,” he said.

While landing a job was not guaranteed, getting a free meal was.

Workers were provided with sandwiches, chips and ice-cool drinks.

Michelle Brigman, who got her first job as a brick-layer in 1979, also came to the job fair. Brigman currently has a job, but came to the fair for extra insurance.

“In construction, you know that one minute you could be working and the next minute you won’t. I don’t put my eggs in one basket, so I’m always looking around,” she explained.

Hundreds of local residents within the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone attended the fair.

Hundreds of local residents within the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone attended the fair.

Brigman explained that ideally she would land a job with one of Columbia’s projects, but there’s the slight issue of where she resides.

“I would love to get a Columbia job, but they said my zip code does not match their criteria,” she said ruefully.

Brigman, who lives across from Bronx Community College, is outside the empowerment zone will probably not land a job with the University, but that doesn’t stop her from coming to the job fairs.

“I come anyway because there are other projects going on and I enjoy being here,” said a smiling Brigman, a member of Carpenter’s Local 157. “We’re all interacting; we all have a common goal and we’re sharing our experiences.”