As the Spirit get set to host Salute to Labor night at Audi Field on Saturday night, take a second to look around the stadium and take it all in. Sure, there is the game happening on the pitch, but take a moment to look at the stadium itself. Have you ever thought about all the people that helped build this massive venue?
When ground was broken on the land at Buzzard Point that was to become Audi Field, it started with a demolition team that cleared the area and prepared it for construction. That was the first set of union laborers that helped build the stadium. From there, the list would grow.
From carpenters to bricklayers, painters to roofers, ironworkers to operating engineers, union labor could be found all over the construction site at Audi. We interviewed Stephen Courtien, President of the Baltimore-DC Metro Building and Construction Trades Council who talked about all of the work that went into the construction of the stadium.
“Glaziers and Iron workers put in all the glass and windows. Electricians put in all the lighting,” Courtien said. “Then you have the HVAC, Local 602 which is the steamfitters, the united association. They put in all the HVAC and all the air quality control systems. The sprinkler fitters put in all the fire protection systems. The laborers and operating engineers, they did a lot. They did the field itself, they did the concrete, that’s a lot of concrete. The painters union did the painting. The iron workers did all the railings, the structure. They also did the steel, safety railings that was all done by the iron workers. The operating engineers operated all the cranes that were down there. Prior to the construction of that, our union company did all the demo and the reclamation, cleaning up the soil, that very fun, nasty stuff so that no one would be poisoned.”
Over the 18 months that it took to build the stadium, many different hands were needed to pull this project together. Not only was it a good learning experience for many, but through the project labor agreement, it has turned into long-term jobs for local residents of the Washington, D.C. area.
“Part of that project labor agreement, it also made sure that you had local hire, training opportunities for underserved and underrepresented groups to make sure that they got the opportunity to not only work on that one project, but get into the construction industry,” Courtien said. “So what we did was we held multiple apprentice readiness classes prior to and during the construction of that project to help recruit and bring people in that might not have been exposed to construction before.”
Three years after the completion of Audi Field, there is still much to be developed in and around the stadium. And don’t worry, these same labor unions still have a heavy presence in the area. As you head to the field, you will most likely notice the new Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge being built to cross the Anacostia River or The Stacks, a six-acre mixed-use, waterfront community that will be built right down the street.
Now you are probably wondering why there is so much talk about the construction in and around Audi Field. Well, it’s simple, labor unions are important not only because they help build a lot of what you see around you, but also because they make life better for the people in the industry.
Baltimore-DC Metro Building and Construction Trades Council, a local affiliate of North America’s Building Trades Union, supports the 22 construction unions in the area. They advocate to raise industry standards and provide opportunities for all communities.
“What you’re able to do on these mega projects like a stadium… is you have this increase in not just making sure that local people are on the job, that they are getting paid well, but that they are also getting benefits,” Courtien said. “Over the past year, you’ve seen a reason why people need health insurance. Most construction workers, you don’t have employer paid for health insurance. So that’s a guarantee that you have when you are using a union company. The other thing we are constantly fighting is the pay gap. We are constantly trying to recruit more women in the construction industry. Because especially in the union construction side, that pay gap doesn’t exist. Man or woman, black, white hispanic, it pays the same amount.”
If you are interested in ways to help out your local unions, Courtien says it’s important to advocate for and support laws that help protect workers against wage theft.
“Too often what we are fighting a lot in Washington, D.C. is this business model of wage theft. People aren’t getting paid, taxes aren’t being paid on people, they’re not being paid for every hour of work, they are getting paid below the minimum wage. So the biggest ask to the general population is first of all, just how severe wage theft is in not only our industry but a lot of the service industry and construction industry. So just be supportive of enforcement of wage theft laws and prevent it from happening.”
So the next time you walk into Audi Field, stop and take a look around. Enjoy the product on the field but remember the hard work of the people who helped make this place what it is today.