Opinion: In Times of Crisis, RI Can Count on Union Workers

Opinion: In Times of Crisis, RI Can Count on Union Workers
Providence Journal
May 23, 2020

By Michael F. Sabitoni

A number of professions have been recognized for heroic calls to action during this pandemic, all of them well-deserving. One group that is rarely mentioned is the 10,000 skilled craftsmen and women of the Rhode Island Building and Construction Trades Council.

For a number of years, I have been honored and privileged to serve as their president; but today, I am more proud than ever, because our members are answering the call of duty, courageously “lacing them up” every day during these most difficult times.

A most poignant example is the urgently needed field hospital recently constructed with extraordinary speed and skill for an anticipated rise in COVID-19 cases. Within a record two weeks, our union workforce turned a 365,000-square-foot space at the Rhode Island Convention Center into a total functioning hospital to treat Rhode Islanders infected with the coronavirus.

Tradesmen and women worked 24/7, constructing a state-of-the-art, fully operational triage center consisting of four wards, 28 pods and 600 private rooms. This impressive construction was accomplished with union members working in double shifts, from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., relieved by overnight crews from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. It is hard to fathom the depth and breadth of the critical hospital infrastructure that was put in place with such expedience, experience and strict adherence to COVID-19 protocols.

The build-out includes a massive HVAC infrastructure and vast pipeline systems to ensure constant clean air flow throughout the hospital, as well as pure oxygen lines for every patient. Additional infrastructure includes electrical hook-ups for life-saving hospital equipment, water lines for hot and cold water and an internet connection for each room. Add to that moving in the basics for each room, such as lamps, tables, beds and even hospital-grade curtains for privacy, and you will have some idea of the tremendous effort our members put in to accomplish this monumental feat.

The Convention Center field hospital was not the only one our union workforce was called upon to build. Our courageous tradesmen and women have also completed two more — one at the former Citizens Bank in Cranston and another in the vacant Lowes Building at Quonset Point — under the same difficult circumstances with the same professionalism, and in record speed.

Just as other states are turning to Building Trades Councils across the U.S. during this pandemic, so too is Rhode Island, ensuring that our essential road, bridges and critical infrastructure projects remain on track. Today, and in all times of need, the members of the Rhode Island Building Trades always step up to the plate.

During Superstorm Sandy, tradesmen and women worked collectively around the clock, rebuilding severely flooded roads and bridges and repairing and reconstructing thousands of small businesses, as well as Rhode Island’s schools, courthouses and other critical buildings that were flooded, laden with mold, and significantly damaged. During Tropical Storm Irene and the devastating March 2010 floods, our members worked nonstop to bring wastewater-treatment plants and other critical infrastructure back online.

You can trace the sacrifice and commitment by the Rhode Island Building Trades back to our establishment in 1908. For more than a century, together with our union contractors and partners in local and state government, we have risen to every challenge, every catastrophic period, with resolve and solidarity. Today’s COVID-19 crisis is no different. The union tradesmen and women of Rhode Island have once again gone above and beyond to serve the state’s citizenry.

I am most humbled by their selflessness, respect and continued diligence to support our state and lead Rhode Island through this tremendous hardship. This is the true essence of union solidarity that we live by as Trade Unionists.

We will all get there together!

Please be safe, be well and stay protected.

Michael F. Sabitoni is president of the Rhode Island Building and Construction Trades Council