By Richard Bermack, Contributing Writer and Photographer
Imagine building the elevators for the tallest building this side of the Mississippi River, 61 floors and over 1000 feet high. Workers will depend on those elevators everyday to get them to work on time.
That will take 34 elevators, arranged in a system of express elevators: low- rise from floors 1 to 14, low-to-mid for floors 15 to 30, mid-to-high for floors 31 to 45, and high rise for floors 46 to 61, plus two service elevators capable of stopping on all the floors from P3 to 62. All the elevators will stop on the 5th floor.
The elevator mechanics – mem- bers of the International Union of Elevator Constructors Local 8 – were installing the iron rails that will guide the 10,000-pound elevators up and down the thousands of feet of shafts when we Organized Labor visited the jobsite at the Salesforce Tower. It is estimated they will have to install over fifteen miles of rails. The rails come in 16-foot lengths and weigh either 18, 22 or 30 pounds per linear foot, depending on the size. With the metal plates used for rigging, they can weigh 300 to 480 pounds apiece.
Imagine moving the rails up a hoistway over 1000 feet high. To do that, they use a “tugger” similar to a ship’s winch with a nylon rope that can hoist the rails up the dark elevator shaft at approximately 100 feet per minute. Needless to say, one doesn’t want to get in their way. Safety is a major concern, so they put a little “birdie” on the end of the rail, an LED puck that emits flashing red lights and chirping sounds warn- ing of their approach. Schindler El- evators, as well as Salesforce Tower, takes safety very seriously and has instituted a pilot program with a full-time safety officer present on the project. The project is a joint venture of Clark/Hathaway Dinwiddie.
–Voices From the Union–
On-site Safety Coordinator
This is a high profile project, and safety is a big deal for Schindler and for Salesforce Tower. They want to keep injuries to a minimum, if at all, so they created this pilot position. I’m on the site every day from 6:00 am to 4:30 pm. I’ll go to every floor to make sure everyone’s observing safe working practices.
We meet every morning and go through the task they are going to be doing that day, identifying the hazards, and then implement corrective measures. We make sure they have all the cor- rect personal protective equipment. If they are pulling up elevator rails through the hoistway, we make sure that when they are moving from one floor to another there is visual, voice, or radio communication. In the blind hoistway, for example, where there are no lights, we want a warning, so we’ll put an LED puck on the end of the rails.
For me it’s about making sure that people go home to their families every night. That’s my reward. I’ve been in construction for 25 years. About 16 years ago a couple of close friends got injured and they never came back to work. I knew their families, so I switched to the safety side.
It is all how you approach people. You don’t discipline them, you coach them. You talk to them from your heart. You explain this is not only a compliance is- sue, but Schindler’s safety policy and the elevator union’s policy.
We’ll also approach the manufacturers. A recent example: the T-rail holder, which holds the rails as we hoist them up from floor to floor. The pin that locks it in place was a little short, so we explained it to the manufacturer and they extended it a quarter inch so it would lock in place. It added an extra-step to engage and disengage, but sometimes adding an extra step can make all the difference.
Payn is part of Helmets to Hard Hats, the building trades’ program for military veterans. He served a nine-month tour in Afghanistan.
I read all these stories about people messing with you when you’re starting out and how you’ve got to earn your spot. I was as nervous as I was going to Afghanistan. So I was surprised at how welcoming everyone was. They just brought me right aboard and taught me everything I need to know.
Guys come from all different back- grounds. Everyone meshes together and make things happen, and the most important thing is to look out for each other. A lot of these older mechanics have been in the trade 20 or 30 years, and they know so much more than we do, but they treat us like grown men, who even if we don’t know everything, we’re still bringing something to the table and helping get the job done.
You see somebody doing something unsafe, even if he’s a mechanic and I’m just a probationary person, still I’ll tell them, “Hey, you need to tie off.” And they’ll say, “Thank you” and tie off. Everyone forgets sometimes. It’s like Afghanistan. You have to rely on the guys around you to watch your back. We all want to go home in one piece.
Lead Mechanic, High-Rise Crew
I started in the early 80s. I worked on 101 California. That was 40 stories, 575 feet. That was the largest building at that time, and this one is going to be 1070 feet.
We have some puppies on this job, some guys who haven’t worked with tools very much. It’s challenging for them. I teach them the tricks that I was taught when I started out and the tricks that I have learned. We’ll teach them certain tasks, like how to rig up a rail and pull it up the hoistway with the drum winch, what speeds to pull it at, what to listen for, and how it sounds when it gets hung up. We especially teach them about safety. Even if you have to do an extra step and that takes a little longer, that’s not that bad, because in our trade safety is number one.
It’s all about two-way communication. You don’t scream and yell, you talk to them and explain how to do things, and then they’ll handle it. It’s rewarding seeing them grow and knowing that we’re handing down the trade.
It’s tough working on a project this size, but the contractor is really good and the guys are the tops in the trade. Even the apprentices and probationary helpers are great.
I’ve run a lot of big jobs, from Houston to Las Vegas to San Francisco, and we need so many people I had to recruit extra guys from all over the country.
You always have problems when you travel. There’s always a couple guys with territorial attitudes about how you do things. But not here. There’s a lot of ways to perform a task, but I’m pretty easy going as long as it gets done safely and is installed correctly. I may have 20 years of experience, but I don’t know everything. This new helper may see an easier and safer way than we’re used to doing it. And everybody in this room has the same attitude. I got guys in the trade for 40 years and they’re still open-minded. This group is one of the best groups that I ever worked with, and that’s why I picked them.
It’s challenging working with the new apprentices. They don’t understand the rhyme and the reason, so we’re here to help them catch on. It’s nice to guide them along, and by teaching them you’re reassuring yourself that you know what you’re doing. We just learned it and now we’re passing it on to them.
Before this, my favorite job was working on the escalator at the 49ers stadium in Santa Clara. I worked on all the escalators, and now I get to go back and see them all work, when I go to a game. This is another once-in-a-lifetime job. They say it’s going to be the tallest build- ing west of the Mississippi. I’m so lucky to be able to learn this stuff, and the view of the bay and the skyline!
I used to work as a bouncer. Those were good times, but this is a career. I’ve worked here four years. I hope I can work another 26 and then retire.
Probationary Helper, 3 months
It’s been a great learning experience every day. Today I learned how to lay out the holes for all the piping going from the controllers to the drive machines below. We’re punching holes to get everything ready for when the equipment arrives, and then it will all go together like pieces of a puzzle. The trick I learned is to lubricate the hole punch and it goes faster. This is my first time working in the el- evator industry. I was working for the city in the public works department, sweeping storm drains and doing street repairs. This is way better. It’s a career. My family is happy for me. They saw me in a different job that wasn’t going anywhere, but now I’m going somewhere where I can excel. I have a wife and three kids, and they’re watching every move that dad does. I want to set a good example.
Lead, Mechanical Room
The layout of the building required them to stack the control room above the machine room. Normally the con- troller is here and the machine is right by it and you can see what you’re doing. On this job, we have to punch holes and run the wires through the floor and then explain it to the guy connecting them to the machines below.
Space is very limited. Everything has to be very precise and in the right location. It takes a lot of thinking and planning. Everything needs to be spot on, but we have some of the best people in the industry, so we’re up to the challenge.
I love the precision of it. When it’s all said and done, everything runs perfectly. It is absolutely the best feel- ing in the world. It’s been a wonderful project. I’m glad to be here.
Lead, Low-Rise Crew
We have a lot of new guys and a lot of seasoned guys working together and that can be a challenge. You’re used to working with people who know what they’re doing and used to a certain rhythm, but you gotta remember it’s the first time for some of these guys. You have to stop and explain it to them. But then they get it, and things go great. They are fast studies. They have to be given the work pace. They are helping us out. We couldn’t do it without them.