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Rebuilding the World Trade Center: Veterans Trade Helmets for Hard Hats with Union Training

William Plotner waited for his daughter’s second birthday to enroll in the military on Sept. 11, 2004—three years after the World Trade Center twin towers fell. He wanted his daughter to remember the significance of her birth date. But most of all, he wanted her to think of him as a hero. Now Plotner, a U.S. Army veteran and member of Laborers (LIUNA) Local 79, is rebuilding the World Trade Center.

Says Plotner:

On 9-11-04 I swore in. And now I get to work here. It brings, like, another sense of pride.

Plotner landed his job through the building trades’ Helmets to Hardhats initiative—a national labor-management program that connects transitioning members of the military with career training and job opportunities within the building and construction industry. The high unemployment and homelessness rate among veterans makes Helmets to Hardhats such a vital program.

Helmets to Hardhats was created by the unions of the AFL-CIO Building and Construction Trades Department and several national construction industry employer associations. It is sponsored by the 15 building trades.

Anne Trenkle, New York state director of Helmets to Hardhats, says:

Helmets to Hardhats helps transitioning military personnel to gain entry into the apprenticeship programs with the building trades and they become a member of the union. It’s not just transitioning into a job. It’s transitioning into a career, and they will be able to provide for their families in a wonderful way.

Transitioning from the military to a union isn’t too much of a stretch for veterans in the Helmets to Hardhats program. The emphasis on working as a team, not an individual, and working together to get the job done are values ingrained in the military and shared by union workers.

Yesterday, the final steel beam was lifted atop 4 World Trade Center, the first skyscraper expected to open at the site since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Half of the footage featured in the YouTube video is of 4 World Trade Center, and half of the veterans-construction workers interviewed work on that tower.

“I had just arrived at my duty station when Sept. 11 happened,” says Lawrence Gotti, a member of Ironworkers Local 40 and a U.S. Army veteran. “Being from New York and going through what I’ve gone through, it’s just an honor—it’s a point of personal pride to be here now working on any part of the World Trade Center.”

Trenkle says Helmets to Hardhats can make a profound difference in a veteran’s life:

One of my Ironworker kids said, ‘Where else could I have gotten a job hanging off of the side of the World Trade Center by a rope?’ He said, ‘I have the best job in the world.’ And I said to him, ‘No, I do.’

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