Q&A: Matt Chartrand, Business Agent for Ironworkers Local 361

Matthew Chartrand is business manager/financial secretary-treasurer of Ironworkers Local 361. After attending Nassau Community College, Chartrand began working as a Local 361 apprentice in 1993, graduating to journeyman in 1996. As a journeyman Ironworker, he worked all phases of iron work, including bolting up, raising gang, shop steward, and foreman. Chartrand was appointed business agent/vice president of Ironworkers Local 361 in 2004. He was elected President in 2008 and also served as assistant apprentice coordinator. In July 2013, he became the business manager/financial secretary treasurer. This month, Metals in Construction spoke with Chartrand about how Local 361 has navigated ongoing work during the pandemic.

In the early stages of the virus, many local 361 ironworkers were considered “essential workers” and reported to job sites every day. Given your overriding concern for their safety and that of their families, how have they fared? Can you share any anecdotes about family, onsite relationships, etc.?

About 80 percent of our jobs were essential. There was only one project—the New York Islanders arena in Belmont—that wasn’t considered essential and that did get shut down. The other ones they jumped into protocols that came from us talking with the building trades and the contractors on a weekly and sometimes biweekly basis. We set up protocols on how to protect members working so they don’t bring the virus back to their homes and vice versa. I think these meetings kept the number of infections down. I’d say that over the course of the pandemic maybe twenty workers have had the virus out of an 800-person workforce. We saw more cases where guys were bringing the virus from home rather than from the jobsite.

What requirements did the city and state put into effect for construction work to ensure Covid safety and how have they affected working conditions for journeymen and apprentices? Has training been able to keep pace?

As a group we decided to sanitize the construction shanties once or twice a day, with no more than ten members in a shanty at a time. And they implemented temperature checks for members and of course everybody has to wear masks. On jobs where, for instance, they needed to take a bus to the job site they would space out the seating and have extra vehicles to bring members to their work point. Sometimes we staggered lunch times or built outdoor shanties for lunch and breaks for each crew. We had sanitizing stations. If there was an exposure incident then they would bring in an outside professional for sanitization at night. It was a joint effort all the way across, where we would collaborate on phone calls and tweak things as needed. 

Were your apprentices or journeymen able to keep up with their certifications? 

It slowed down in the beginning and then they went online and Brien Brady, director of training for Iron Workers Locals 40 & 361, implemented a program and had a full plate of Zoom courses. 

With regard to the effect of the pandemic on field operations, how have you noticed teams adjusting their work procedures to maintain the productivity and workmanship they are known for?

If somebody had to quarantine themselves, we did have to pull somebody else in. We had people in the hall, so if somebody from the raising gang was out, we would send someone from a raising gang to the job site. We’re fortunate to have workers that are trained all around and we have enough connectors to fill the void. We’re lucky to be able to move people around. 

Was there any concern from connectors working with someone coming in from the hall? 

Typically what would happen is we would have someone else from the gang to fill in, just as if somebody had a family emergency in normal times. They’re all familiar with each other. Then, we’d send the new worker from the hall to the ground.

Did you you see changes in weather conditions (hurricane season, winter, etc.) affecting the protocols for field operations?

I don’t think that’s had much of an effect on the way the workforce has behaved during the pandemic. The longer it goes on the more people are getting used to the protocols, keeping their masks on all the time and doing what they need to do. It’s becoming more of a habit, just like when they started working with safety harnesses on job sites years ago. 

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I haven’t heard anyone say we are stopping a job or not going forward with it because of the pandemic. We did think that was going to happen with JFK but now it looks like that is going full speed ahead. Again it is due to the men and women out in the field who had to adapt to this and are abiding by the rules and regulations to keep themselves healthy—that’s keeping the workforce moving forward. We’ve been lucky, all things considered.