Phil English, a member of Local 79, was recently profiled in an article in the Los Angeles Times, a major national newspaper. (LA Times article on Phil English) A Laborer for 15 years, he worked at Ground Zero for six months after the tragic 9/11 attack and then returned in 2007 to help build One World Trade Center, where he continues to work today. He suffered his own personal tragedy when his wife died in 2007, leaving him to raise three children. While initially reluctant to go back to work after his wife died, One World Trade Center provided him with both a paycheck and a great sense of purpose. Phil sat down recently to reflect on his career as a Laborer:Why did you join the union?I knew lots of people in the union and they told me of the pride that members had in being part of the union. The wages and benefits were also appealing. After my first union meeting, I was hooked. The energy and the diversity of the membership really struck me. I still try to attend all the meetings, as I am always happy to see fellow Laborers with whom I have worked on jobs in the past. It’s also my way of saying thank you to the leadership that fights for us every day.
When are your recollections of your work at Ground Zero?
I went to work at Ground Zero the morning after the attack. I’m fortunate that I wore the respirator and used the oxygen that was supplied to me. The situation on the ground was about a thousand times as bad as what people saw on television. Listening to the horns that sounded every time a body was found and coming across random shoes and clothing took its toll. One had to be strong minded to work there.
And what about your work on One World Trade Center?
I started there when there was just a ramp and a hole in the ground, so I have been involved in every stage of the project. One memory that stands out is on the anniversary of September 11, a few Laborers and I were on standby in case Port Authority needed assistance in an emergency. There were families of victims who came by. They cried, hugged us, and thanked us for the work we had done. That let us know that we were not just building another majestic building, but rather a building that would help families heal and that showed our collective strength and resolve.
Was seeing a piece about yourself in a major national newspaper the proudest moment of your work as a Laborer?
No. The proudest moment was the day I was initiated into Local 79. After I got my book, I returned to the work site and, when I entered, all my fellow workers clapped.
Can you give an example of how people have responded to the article?
I met a few new apprentices on my job who had read the article at the Training Fund. They all shook my hand and let me know how inspirational the article had been for them. That was really meaningful to me.
Was there anything left out of the newspaper piece that you wish had been in it?
Yes. I wanted to thank my daughter, who was 15-years old at the time of my wife’s death. She was my oxygen, the person who took care of things at home so I could return to work. I will remain forever grateful for that.
Any last words?
I am proud to say that my son started in Local 79 today!