Op-ed | Link5G creates 21st century jobs for union workers

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As New York City continues its recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, our unemployment rate lags behind both the state’s and the nation’s at 5.3 percent, compared to just 3.9 percent across New York State and 3.7 percent nationally. While we work to rebuild our local economy, the city’s elected leaders have an obligation to ensure that new jobs created in all five boroughs provide fair wages, comprehensive benefits, and a pathway to the middle class for all New Yorkers.

In short, now more than ever, New York City needs union jobs.

Just 18 percent of New Yorkers today are unionized, down from a high of nearly 30 percent in 2005. Working families are still contending with economic turmoil left in the pandemic’s wake; we are depending on our leaders in City Hall and the NYC Council to fund, support, and embrace projects that create good, stable union jobs for our communities. As the Business Manager of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local #3, I’ve seen firsthand how one such project — LinkNYC, the public-private partnership that deploys, operates, and maintains modern telecommunications infrastructure across the city — continues to provide union job opportunities for New Yorkers who have the drive and the skills to help our city build back better.

Launched in 2016, LinkNYC is already the largest free Wi-Fi network in the United States. Its kiosks have connected more than 13 million users to the internet and enable our neighbors and tourists alike to charge their devices, access City services quickly, and place national calls for free and at no cost to taxpayers. IBEW Local 3 members have installed every LinkNYC kiosk in every borough —more than 1,800 total — and earned good wages and benefits for the hundreds of thousands of hours they put in to build out this critical digital safety net for New York City.

Now, LinkNYC is embarking on the next generation of its rollout, deploying another 2,000 kiosks citywide in the form of its new-and-improved Link5G smart poles. These upgraded structures offer all the same services as the original kiosks while providing additional space for 5G small cell radios that will dramatically boost cellular service to keep everyone in our city connected, no matter where they live, work, or play. Especially in communities that have been historically underserved, this enhanced internet infrastructure will help more of our students complete their homework, more small businesses compete, and more low-income families access the resources they need to thrive.

Link5G smart poles won’t only ensure New York’s telecommunications infrastructure is among the most advanced in the world — they will also guarantee family-sustaining middle-class wages and benefits for union electricians as they work on the project’s rollout. And because many of our members work for minority- and women-owned business enterprises, the project will strengthen our city’s M/WBE small businesses as well.

For nearly 125 years, IBEW Local 3 has helped build New York City. Our members have worked on some of the most iconic structures in our city, creating and implementing the infrastructure that keeps our skyline shining brighter than any other city on the planet. Over that same period, our union has organized quality job training for young New Yorkers, provided job opportunities for our diverse membership, and promoted the highest standards of worker safety in our industry.

New York’s leaders can and should help us continue that legacy by supporting the Link5G program — and the well-paying jobs it will create for our 28,000 members.

Christopher Erikson is Business Manager of IBEW Local 3.