The award, which recognizes outstanding labor-management cooperation and quality craftsmanship in the construction industry, was presented at a special ceremony on May 9 at TAUC’s annual Leadership Conference at the Ritz-Carlton Reynolds Plantation in Greensboro, Georgia.
John is a member of Iron Workers Local No. 3 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He was nominated by TAUC member Graycor Industrial Constructors for his work on the construction and installation of a massive new coke battery at U.S. Steel’s facility in Clairton, Pennsylvania. John was responsible for managing skilled workers from several different crafts, making sure everything worked flawlessly and keeping the entire project on schedule – a formidable task to say the least.
The numbers alone are staggering. The battery was comprised of 30,000 tons of bricks, more than six thousand tons of structural steel and 30,000 yards of concrete – not to mention six major machines that weighed a total of 380 tons.
And to make things even more interesting, all of the work had to be completed in an area less than 200 feet wide and 500 feet long! At one point, crews were working within four feet of an active gas line. Safety, cooperation and attention to detail were paramount.
L-R: MARK THOMAS, IRONWORKERS LOCAL #3; JOHN BALIK, CRAFTPERSON OF THE YEAR; TOM MUCHESKO, GRAYCOR.
“It was a tight situation,” John recalled. “We ran into issues here where we physically had to have crafts working beside each other and it became really difficult. You physically can’t get two people in the same place at the same time…I know there were times that the union guys managed to put aside their differences, their own pride and say, ‘Okay, let’s work together and get it done timely, safely, no lost time.”
“This project utilized many different crafts throughout the Pittsburgh building trades, including the Iron Workers, Operating Engineers, Carpenters, Boilermakers, Millwrights, Steamfitters, and the Laborers,” noted Mark Thomas, Business Manager and Financial Secretary-Treasurer for Iron Workers Local No. 3. “It was a strict schedule for completion and it took great teamwork by all the crafts, by U.S. Steel, Graycor, John Balik, and the craftsmen on this job. It really was a team effort to make sure this project got done on time.”
And John was just the man to lead the team.
“John has a very diverse background,” said Tom Muchesko, Senior Vice President for Graycor. “He has the eyes of an ironworker, but he also has the technical training of an engineer. So really it was a very good combination of knowing technically how to do it and yet also having firsthand knowledge with the trades.”
John has great leadership skills,” Thomas added. “His directions were concise, and he was certainly well ahead of the curve when it came to the planning of this job and in making sure that the job got done on time.”
Those leadership skills proved even more valuable when the decision was made to finish the project two months earlier than originally planned. “John helped analyze the schedule,” Muchesko said. “He decided what shifts needed to be worked, and he determined which trades, which crafts had to work…he really minimized the cost impact of accelerating the schedule.”
When the project was finally completed two months early, the entire tripartite team of craftworkers, Graycor and U.S. Steel had another reason to celebrate: two and a half million man hours were worked without a lost time incident.
“This job is a great testament to the slogan ‘Do it right, do it once,’” Thomas said. “It was a safe project, it was done on time, and the quality, I know, was second to none.”
“I can’t say enough about the guys on the job, how they helped me,” John said. “They came together and they pushed our goal…they delivered.”
“John exemplifies union construction at its best,” said TAUC President Tom Felton. “He proved that it’s possible to work at the highest level and get the job done without sacrificing the core values of safety, quality, leadership and cooperation. He earned the respect not only of his fellow craftworkers, but of the contractor and the customer as well. People like John epitomize the best qualities of our skilled trades.”
The James J. Willis Craftperson of the Year Award recognizes five categories of achievement:
• Safety and Health
• Schedule and Budget
• Cost Savings Innovation
• Outstanding Craftsmanship
Projects must be completed in the calendar year of the award. Nominations are forwarded to our judge’s panel to be evaluated and ranked in each category. This year, the members of the James J. Willis Award Task Force were: Al Black, Construction and Turnaround Services; “Bud” Burns, Scheck Mechanical; and Bill Ligetti, Ironworker Employers Association of Western Pennsylvania.