The International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers Union, AFL-CIO, is a proud trade union whose roots go back to the 1890’s. The current membership stands at approximately 140,000, with 15,000 apprentices. Members of this union have worked on nearly every major construction project you can think of — The Golden Gate Bridge, The Sears Tower, The St. Louis Arch, The World Trade Center, and the World Trade Center recovery effort, to name a few.
Some people confuse Ironworkers with Steelworkers. Ironworkers are members of the Building and Construction Trades and Heavy and Highway Department. Ironworkers work on outside projects erecting buildings and bridges and other related work. Steelworkers work in steel mills which produce the steel.
The union provides many benefits and support for its members. These benefits include the advantage of working under a collective bargaining agreement that brings bigger paychecks, better health and retirement benefits, more secure jobs, and safe working conditions. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Ironworkers earn well above the average income for the construction trades.
Of course, what you will actually earn depends on the collective bargaining agreement of your Local Union, but as of April 2001 earnings for Journeyman Ironworkers who performed outdoor work (including fringe benefits) ranged between $19.15 and $65.23 per hour. The average hourly wage for a beginning Ironworker apprentice (not including fringe benefits) was $13.03, and in some areas was as much as $19.77.
Ironworkers Do It All!!!
You may think that Ironworkers only erect buildings and bridges, but ironwork is a multi-faceted trade. Most Ironworkers do more than one type of ironwork and each has its own challenges and required skills. The following list is a sample of the type of work that Ironworkers perform:
Have you seen workers walking around on the steel framework of large buildings under construction? Talk about climbing high! Those daredevils are Structural Ironworkers – also known as “cowboys of the skies.” Their job is to unload, erect, and connect fabricated iron members to form the skeleton of a structure. Structural Ironworkers work on the construction of industrial, commercial, and large residential buildings, as well as on towers, bridges, stadiums and prefabricated metal buildings. They also erect and install pre-cast beams, columns and panels.
Reinforcing and Post Tensioning Ironworking
Have you heard the term rebar? If you have, you may know that it is Reinforcing Ironworkers who fabricate and place these steel bars in concrete forms to reinforce concrete structures. Concrete in which reinforcing steel rods (that’s rebar to you and me) have been embedded is widely used in building construction. Rebar is placed on suitable supports and is then tied together with tie wire. Reinforcing Ironworkers have to carry the heavy steel bars from one point to another quite frequently, so don’t think you can slack off in the workout department! As we move into the 21st Century, rebar is also fabricated out of composite material – not steel. But that doesn’t matter, Ironworkers still install it. Reinforcing Ironworkers also install Post Tensioning Tendons (cables). These cables are placed in concrete forms along with the reinforcing steel. After the concrete is poured and hardened, the Ironworkers stress the tendons using hydraulic jacks and pumps. This technology allows structures to span greater distances between supporting columns. Reinforcing Ironworkers are employed wherever reinforced concrete is used in the construction of such structures as buildings, highways, drainage channels, bridges, stadiums, and airports.
Ornamental Ironworkers install metal windows into masonry or wooden openings of a building. They also erect the curtain wall and window wall systems that cover the steel or reinforced concrete structure of a building. Some refer to these systems as the “skin” of the building. Windows, curtain wall and window wall systems are usually fabricated out of extruded aluminum shapes and may have panels of glass, metal, masonry or composite materials consisting of different colors. As an example of this type of work, the Ornamental Ironworkers in Chicago erected the curtain wall that covers the 110 story steel structure of the Sears Tower office building. In addition to working on the skin of a building, Ornamental Ironworkers also install and erect metal stairways, cat walks, gratings, ladders, doors of all types, railings, fencing, gates, metal screens, elevator fronts, platforms and entranceways. A variety of materials are used in fabricating this type of work, for example, aluminum, steel, bronze and composites. This type of work is fastened to the structure by bolting or welding. Ornamental Ironworkers are commonly referred to as “finishers” and are employed in construction of large commercial, industrial, and residential buildings.
Rigging and Machinery Moving
Rigging is an integral part of the Ironworking trade. Structural, Reinforcing and Ornamental Ironworkers all do this type of work. Any Ironworker that does rigging must have knowledge of fiber line, wire rope, hooks, skids, rollers, proper hand signals, and hoisting equipment, as well as have comprehensive training on safety issues. Ironworker Riggers load, unload, move and set machinery, structural steel, curtain walls, and any other materials or work falling under the jurisdiction of the Ironworker. This work is done using equipment like power hoists, cranes, derricks, forklifts and aerial lifts, or by hand, using a series of blocks and tackle.
Welding and Burning
Structural, Reinforcing, Ornamental, and Rigging Ironworkers all perform welding to secure their work to the structure. Welding and Burning equipment are considered “tools of the trade.” Almost every construction project on which an Ironworker works requires these essential skills. In order to become proficient in these tasks, the Ironworker apprentice and/or journeyman learns how to burn and weld at one of the 160 Ironworker Training Centers located throughout North America. Upon completion of training, the Ironworker student will have the opportunity to be tested to become a certified welder. This designation meets the American Welding Society’s welding codes normally specified by the jobsite engineer.
Many Other Skilled Jobs
In addition to the five best known categories of ironwork, which are explained above, Ironworkers perform a wide variety of other specialized work. This includes, but is