Local 49 member believed to be among missing


Union members among victims, rescuers.

Operating Engineers Local 49 believes one of its members is the construction worker missing after the collapse of the I-35W bridge, while AFSCME and the Laborers union confirmed that members working on the bridge were injured.

Labor organizations expressed shock over the disaster and sympathy for all the victims and their families. The bridge, which spans the Mississippi River near downtown Minneapolis, fell about 6 p.m. Wednesday, killing at least four people, injuring scores more and leaving an estimated 20-30 people missing and likely trapped in vehicles beneath submerged pieces of the bridge.

The missing 49er was employed by Progressive Contractors, Inc., a St. Michael-based company that was resurfacing the bridge at the time of the collapse. Ron Sundboom, dispatcher for Local 49, said the local “did not know anything definitive” but believed the worker was missing.

Sundboom, who said he could not disclose the worker’s name, said he had driven across the bridge about 10 minutes before it fell.

“The bridge was jampacked with traffic when I went across it,” he said. “I was southbound and looked across and saw him (the missing worker) riding a bobcat.” No bobcat can be seen in the wreckage above the water, Sundboom noted.

In addition to members of Local 49, who operate heavy equipment, the Laborers union had seven members on the site, said Jim Brady, president of the Laborers District Council of Minnesota and North Dakota.

“They rode a section of the bridge down” as it fell, he said. The union is still determining the exact number of workers injured and the extent of their injuries, he said.

AFSCME members employed by the state Department of Transportation also were working on the bridge, said Elliot Seide, executive director of AFSCME Council 5.

“AFSCME members were on the bridge when it collapsed and we’re making sure that our inspectors are safe,” he said. “We already know that one inspector was injured and hospitalized for surgery.”

“The bridge collapse has horrified us. Today our union mourns the tragedy along with the families of those who are dead, missing and hurt,” Seide added.

The officers of the Minnesota AFL-CIO, which represents 300,000 union members, said, “Our hearts go out to the families whose lives were changed forever when the 35W bridge collapsed yesterday. We offer you our sympathy and our prayers during this very difficult time. We pledge to you that we will not speculate on the causes for this tragedy, but will let the professionals who are engaged in the search for answers do their work without interruption.”

Delegates to the state convention of the Minnesota State Retirees Council, AFL-CIO, held Thursday in Minneapolis, observed a moment of silence for the victims and their families.
The labor movement also lauded the work of first responders, many of whom belong to unions. They include fire fighters, paramedics, police, sheriff’s deputies and other law enforcement personnel from throughout the seven-county Twin Cities metropolitan area who turned out within minutes of the disaster.

“AFSCME members are some of the everyday heroes who brought calm to this disaster,” Seide noted. “We saved lives as part of the medical teams at HCMC and Fairview Hospital. And our 911 and radio control operators took calls from motorists plunging into the river and dispatched first responders.

“Today, more AFSCME members have been mobilized. Blood services are being provided by our members with the St. Paul Red Cross. Our state correctional officers will begin providing additional security at the disaster site. Our members are also part of a Crisis Incident Stress Management Team that will debrief first responders and provide psychological first aid to victims.

“Our members who work for the Department of Transportation are committed to moving commuters safely. We welcome federal disaster relief so we can help get 35W moving again.”