Training News

IMI at the Local Level: Working for BAC Members

Journal: July - August 2005

To expand the unionized masonry industry’s share of the market, IMI develops training and technical programs that can be implemented throughout the country, or on a single project. This final article in the IMI series looks at how BAC Locals and members directly benefit from this approach.

Custom Tailoring

Onsite stone training for this Wisconsin shrine project impressed project officials and boosted the skills of Local 1 WI members. “They were happy to get it,” says project foreman and member Jim Gregerson.

Location is no longer an obstacle to receiving training thanks to IMI’s ability to provide job-specific training when and where BAC members need it. Members of Local 1, in upstate Wisconsin, gained a first-hand appreciation for the IMI training system on a recent project in LaCrosse. For the new Our Lady of Guadalupe shrine, the architect wanted a tight mortar joint on the stone exterior. While some of the bricklayers had stone experience, others had none, noted foreman Jim Gregerson of Local 1. The contractor knew he needed expert help, and turned to IMI, which dispatched National Training Center stone instructor Drew Vecchione to the site for project-specific training. “The architect was just blown away that BAC had those resources,” says Mark Graf, an instructor at the Wisconsin District Council Training Center. The contractor was impressed and “we got some real good public relations out of the deal.” It helped Local 1 members appreciate the benefits of their IMI contributions, too. “All of the guys were very receptive to it,” says Gregerson. “Everybody got something out of it.”

Members of Local 9 Michigan also appreciated IMI’s speedy delivery last winter when their contractor faced a shutdown on a Lapeer County jail project due to a lack of certified grout mechanics. Local 9 Field Representative Mike Lynch called IMI and the very next morning IMI Education Director Larry Darling and Lansing Training Center instructor Tom McCord were on site, running a customized class for the members. “They did a fabulous job in the dead of winter,” says Lynch. “The contractor got what he needed, and the masons didn’t lose any pay whatsoever.” By the end of the day, 28 Local 9 members were certified, and the project finished ahead of schedule and on budget.

Looking Forward

IMI turned a potentially disastrous scare over split face block into a plus for BAC members in Chicago, with a custom training program for inspectors. Above, instructor Chuck Vodicka of Local 74 IL covers fireplace ‘dos and don’ts’ at the IL District Council Training Center.

For one of the newest products, Autoclaved Aerated Concrete (AAC), IMI’s early jump on product-specific training and certification has benefited existing BAC contractors and attracted new ones. In North Carolina, the availability of IMI’s AAC training and certification program prompted a new contractor to sign with BAC, and sparked the interest of another in a market not usually receptive to unions. This high-quality specialized training also attracted the attention of the New York City Transit Authority (TA), which handles some $20 million in construction projects. TA staff attending an IMI seminar on AAC came away eager for more. In response, IMI designed a custom seminar series that will ru n u ntil early 2006 and covers AAC, terrazzo, most importantly, the benefits of using skilled BAC craftworkers, and much more.

IMI’s access to the design community also helps create work opportunities for BAC members. When IMI’s project tracking system turned up Brown University’s plans for a new, $95 million Life Sciences building in Providence, Rhode Island, a call to the school’s Philadelphia-based architecture firm led to IMI providing technical assistance to the designers on the benefits of CMU back-up and details. In addition, it aided in the awarding of the project to BAC signatory contractor Grande Masonry, and resulted in 16,400 work-hours for members of Local 1 Rhode Island.

Selling The BAC Training Advantage

A series of IMI programs in the Chicago area is helping city code officials understand the value of using skilled BAC craftworkers on projects. When some politicians threatened to prohibit single wythe split face concrete masonry after leaking and moisture problems arose on several non-union residential projects, IMI defended the use of the material by pointing out that poor design and shoddy (non-union) installation were at fault. IMI convinced city officials that split face block, when properly designed and installed, is a good system. They followed up with a custom training program for city code enforcement officials. The training program delivered the message: Split face block performs well – when designed right and installed by skilled BAC bricklayers.

“It was a pleasure to coordinate with professionals from IMI to help us show what skills we can bring to the table,” says 24-year Local 2 NY member Paul Vacca, left, with fellow Local 2 member and shop steward Patsy Tirino. “Hats off to Team IMI.”

The class was such a hit that more seminars are in the works for the Chicago Building Department, and IMI has expanded its outreach to suburban code officials. In June, 80 inspectors from 30 different villages came to the Illinois District Council Training Center for a class on brick veneer and fireplaces, which often escape inspections. “The class really woke them up,” says Center Director Bob Arnold. “We wanted to get the word out that Union masons are skilled at this work.” It was great timing, says Henry Kramer, Business Manager of Local 74 Illinois and Secretary-Treasurer of District Council 1, whose members spend up to 50 percent of their time on residential work these days. “It creates a bond with the inspectors.”

BAC/IMI Collaboration Pays

For members of Local 52 Illinois, their restoration skills plus IMI’s technical reputation and outreach to area architects translated into plenty of restoration work on a Chicago Housing Authority apartment complex. After numerous IMI seminars and consultations for Holabaird and Root Architects, the firm specified ‘IMI involvement’ – in other words, BAC craftworkers – for extra peace of mind. That led to a very large-scale restoration job for Local 52 members.

Another positive outcome of BAC/IMI collaborations is New York’s Empire State Plaza in Albany. State construction officials responsible for the immediate and future repair of the 30-year-old exposed aggregate concrete plaza deck were frustrated trying to match the original mix. IMI New York technical director Gene Abbate, Local 2 New York Field Representative Nicola Tirino, and BAC members worked on site, developing an installation technique and a mix design that made a satisfactory match. That gave state officials a first-hand look at the benefits of the BAC/IMI team approach. The combined expertise turned what was originally going to be an in-house job into a three-year contract, which has already produced 1,400 work-hours for Local 2 members, with at least 1,000 more to come on just the exposed aggregate concrete portion of the job.

“That’s IMI in a nutshell,” says IMI President Joan Calambokidis. “When you put skilled BAC members together with IMI training and technical programs, the combination is unbeatable.”



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