“Tunnelers are a unique breed,” says Richard Fitzsimmons, Business Manager at LIUNA Local 147 in New York City. He ought to know. Three generations of Fitzsimmons have worked in the tunnels beneath the metropolis.
But tunneling is not unique to New York. Across the United States and Canada, the demand for tunnel workers is expanding as more and more major tunnel projects break ground.
“Tunneling is hard, tough work,” says LIUNA General President Terence M. O’Sullivan, who also is the Labor Co-Chairman of the Laborers-AGC Education and Training Fund. “Not everyone is able to manage the unique stress of underground work. Nevertheless, demand is high. Across North America, our union and its signatory employers are looking for experienced Laborers who want to move into this line of work.”
A great way to get a feel for tunnel work is the online exhibition called The Sandhog Project. Created by New York graphic artist and photographer Gina LeVay, the exhibition is a rich, multi-media journey into tunnels under construction beneath the city. Still photos, video, audio clips and interviews immerse the viewer in the drama and tension of this uncommon work.
Sandhogs acquired their nickname in the 19th century when they first worked underground in the soft soil around the burgeoning New York harbor. They built the world famous Brooklyn Bridge and the tunnels under the Hudson River. More recently, they’ve worked for the last 36 years on a series of tunnels that bring water to the nation’s largest city.
LeVay’s online exhibit carries forward her weeklong exposition last January at Grand Central Station. That show received extensive media coverage and won widespread praise. LeVay’s sandhog pictures appeared in last May’s issue of National Geographic. Some of them also appear in the current issue of the LHSFNA’s LIFELINES magazine (see Tunnel Work Booming; Safety Training Critical ).
Few online exhibits match this one for the diversity and power of its presentation. Much of that credit goes to LeVay, the artist, but some of it also belongs to LIUNA’s magnificent tunnelers, the Sandhogs.