NEW YORK CITY — Tyrone Gooding was living at his aunt’s house in Red Hook when Hurricane Sandy devastated his neighborhood in 2012.
“When you went left or right, everything was under water,” he said. “The water was past the windows.”
While the flooding spared his family’s home, it flooded the streets around it and disrupted his life.
But years later, Gooding, 33, found a silver lining in the deadly storm’s aftermath.
Through an unprecedented deal with labor unions, and as part of the city’s commitment to hire local workers for post-Hurricane Sandy rebuilding, he began taking classes at a Workforce1 center in Coney Island.
The center provided training to join one of the city’s unions. Gooding, who’s worked in construction since he was 17, had tried to join a union in the past, waiting on line for hours just to apply.
His non-union work on construction sites around the city were inconsistent, and he could be fired for any reason, at any moment, he said.
“I would have to be up and calling them at 6 a.m. or I would go to sites on my own and try to get a number and call them for the next couple months,” he said. “You gotta hustle.”
Gooding began his four-year apprenticeship with the Metallic Lathers Local 46 earlier this year, working first on major roadways and currently on a high rise in Times Square.
He’s one of the more than 1,000 Hurricane Sandy-effected New Yorkers who have been hired since the storm, mostly for the Build It Back program, through hiring initiatives like Workforce1 and other recovery programs.
The city negotiated the country’s first project labor agreement for single-family home rebuilding, committing to 20 percent of those working on rebuilding efforts be local residents. They also committed to recruiting 100 local residents into union apprenticeship programs.
They’ve already exceeded that goal, with 113 residents joining unions more than 20 percent local hires on Build It Back jobs.
Although he’s only been with his union a few months, it’s completely turned his life around, Gooding said. The father of five has a new apartment and began paying off debt he’d accumulated over the years. And he’s working on things he can show his kids one day — showing them he laid the steel to reinforce concrete on skyscrapers in his city.
“I actually have a career,” Gooding said about his experience with Workforce1. “It’s the greatest thing about the program.”
The local hiring boom has been a rare bright spot for Build It Back, which has been bogged down by delays, financial issues, and a host of other problems. Despite helping less than half of the original applicants, they still need an additional $500 million to finish construction and home elevation jobs.
Mayor Bill de Blasio this year admitted they wouldn’t make his goal to complete the program by the end of 2016 — something he first blamed on the “tangle of bureaucracy,” but later said was the fault of homeowners with a “different reality” than the city.
Yet the hiring impact is still felt by those throughout the city.
Kevin Dickinson, 28 realized he wanted to go into construction when he mucked out the basement of his family’s Oakwood Beach, Staten Island, home.
“I had no formal training when Sandy happened,” he said. “It was a necessity, and through that necessity it grew into a love of working with my hands, and now it’s a career.”
He knew it wasn’t easy getting into a union, and he quickly applied to the training program, taking classes in Coney Island, he said.
He’s been an apprentice with the carpenter’s union for about a year and his first job was working on homes getting elevated through Build It Back in his own neighborhood.
Dickinson framed new hurricane-proof windows, put up drywall, and applied fire-proof caulking in neighborhood homes. Having been through the storm and rebuilding process himself, the significance wasn’t lost on him.
“Working on a person’s house is very sensitive, especially one affected by Sandy,” he said. “It’s a lot more personal.”
He sees the job programs as a major positive to come out of Hurricane Sandy, although it is “a bittersweet thing.”
Both he and Gooding say they tell everyone they know about the programs available, knowing firsthand the change their new jobs have had in their own lives.
“You’re giving opportunities to people to actually make a real living and have a career you can be proud of,” he said.
“Nothing is more beautiful than that.”