Making a Career of It
Job Title: Traffic Control Supervisor
Union Member: Laborers Local 60
Employer: ELQ Industries, New Rochelle, NY
Job Site Location: Hutchinson River Parkway, Harrison, NY
Project Owner: NYS Department of Transportation
Joann Gentile finally found the pathway to her career one snowy night, around 2:00 am, when she queued up— along with 100 other hopeful applicants in a line that wrapped around the building—for the chance to enroll in Laborers Union Local 60’s apprentice training program in Brewster, NY.
“Of the hundred or so people on the line that night, they cut the list down to 10 people. From there only one woman got in,” she recalled, as she piloted a large ELQ-company utility vehicle onto the northbound entrance of the Hutchinson River Parkway in late September. “You’re looking at her.”
Following years of wandering around in the dark from job to job, and about two months after writing her name on the Union application, Local 60 called. The moment she joined bright lights went on for her—and they’ve been shining ever since. “They said I was going to be a Laborer, not a flagger,” she said, a twist of fate in her favor that continues to pay big dividends.
As a woman working in a male-dominated industry like construction, she knew she would be put to the test and be required to excel at every task thrown at her—like lifting 80-pound bags of material. “It just comes with the territory,” she said, exhibiting a quiet confidence that comes when you’ve graduated at the top of your class from the school of hard knocks.
Back in the utility vehicle, we’re now entering ELQ’s highway traffic-zone construction site on the northbound side of the HRP in Harrison. She continued to tell nuggets of her life story spanning 52 years. She said she earned a GED, gave birth to a daughter and a son, and bounced from job to job, never finding the right fit in the workplace. She knew she had more to contribute and much more to achieve.
“I knew very little about the construction field when I started, but I had a great opportunity to learn in a training class environment. It was a tremendous help. I always wanted to be part of a team, part of a construction crew, in the Army or something like that.”
Her first job as a Laborer, she recalled, was working on a culvert project in Mamaroneck. There she joined a crew and learned a lot. At that time, it was Jacinto “Jay” Fragoso, the recording secretary and field rep for L.U. 60, who sent her to the project, she recalled. Joann completed 300 training hours at Laborers L.U. 60 Training Center in Brewster on Saturdays. “We definitely saw she had the stuff needed to be successful in the Union,” Mr. Fragoso said recently, certain that her enthusiasm and willingness to learn the trade would pay off.
With the job in Mamaroneck ending, Joann was sent in June 2015 to what she called the project of a lifetime, with Tappan Zee Constructors, LLC. There she worked through the final ribbon-cutting on the new Gov. Mario M. Cuomo Bridge, fulfilling 4,000 hours working in the field to earn her Journeyman certification.
Joann also received the training and certification for her position now as Traffic Control Supervisor through Laborers L.U. 60’s training center. Meanwhile, her daughter, Toni, has also joined the Union to pursue her own career.
“Joining Laborers Local 60 changed my life; the Union took me in and got me back on my feet,” she said, eager to share her appreciation. “Now ELQ has made me a traffic control supervisor, and I feel a deep responsibility for all my boys on the jobsite. I love this company. It’s family. I also owe a lot to Joao Silva, a Laborer foreman at ELQ who has been a mentor and like a father to me. Working for ELQ now is an honor. Before I joined the union, I had nothing. Now I own three houses—the one I live in, one I rent and the one I hope to retire to someday in South Carolina.”
— By George Drapeau III