Ironworkers build success
By Patricia Guadalupe
Jorge Amador’s entrepreneurial spirit might have come from his father, who worked in the steel industry in Cuba. After the Revolution, he fled the island on a kayak through shark-infested waters and arrived in Florida 36 hours later.
“He first went to Louisiana to work in the shipyards, then to New Jersey where he met my mother, who was from Colombia, and then settled in Miami where he opened a manufacturing shop,” Amador told LATINO Magazine.
Jorge was born and raised in Miami, and as a teen was employed by his father. “School vacations, summers, weekends, I was there. I started in 1989 when I was only 14 years old, sweeping the shop floor, driving forklifts, and cutting steel on the saw. Over time I fell in love with the trade and have never looked back or worked in any other industry,” he recalls.
Amador married his high school sweetheart and continued working with his father after finishing up at Miami-Dade College, but struck out on his own after a very fortuitous conversation. The owner of one of the companies that worked with the elder Amador was taken ill and talking about closing down his business. “I approached him and said, ‘Would you be interested in selling? Your company has a great reputation with great employees, and I would like to buy it from you,’” he said. “And I did.”
That was six years ago and the company is Hodges Erectors, a highly successful enterprise that started in 1993 and now has a series of large construction projects in the south Florida area. These include the Missoni Tower, Davie Hospital, the Cleveland Clinic Weston, the Florida Atlantic University STEM Building, YMCA Ft. Lauderdale, the Miami Dolphins training facility, Jackson Hospital, and 830 Brickell Tower, a sleek all-glass office tower in downtown Miami.
Amador emphasizes how important it is that Hodges Erectors is a union shop. “Hodges has been always been a union company since its beginning, and I’ve been a member since I bought the company. Being a member of the union is very important. There’s continuing education and training; the union offers tremendous support,” Amador says. “It’s one of our selling points. In fact, it’s a major selling point. There’s no cutting corners or shoddy work because it is a union shop with highly trained and qualified workers with the best equipment. There are some structural jobs that not everyone can do, no matter how good you say you are. But we can, and we do quality work.”
The union is also a selling point for those interested in a career as an Ironworker, particularly young people just starting out. “I tell them you’re going to be better off learning a trade than just going to school and learning something without a job skill, because at the end of the day no one can take away the knowledge that you gain by getting certified or trained in a trade. At the end of the day you’re always going to have work. The benefits are a plus,” says Amador.
"Being in a union gives you the ability to stay in the same industry and be able to address work concerns with your employer through a collective bargaining agreement. You also receive health benefits, lifelong retirement, along with sustainable middle-class wages,” says Eric Dean, General President of Iron Workers International.
Though Florida is a right-to-work state, union membership assures workers good pay. “We’ve convinced some folks to join the union because of the pay and the benefits. The union is a good way to find workers, with many working throughout the years and over several major projects.
We have a core group of people – and it’s 60 percent Hispanic,” he adds.
In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects faster-than-average growth over the next few years in skilled labor jobs such as construction, with not enough workers to fill those jobs. The Bureau also says that while many Latino workers are already in construction and other blue-collar jobs, their share of those jobs is expected to go up. “All of our Ironworkers are referred through our local union hall but most of them stick with us for years because they feel appreciated and are a part of our Hodges family,” Amador says.
That family aspect extends to how the company has been dealing with coronavirus. Like many companies, Hodges Erectors has been impacted by the pandemic, but Amador stresses that the safety of all Hodges workers comes first and foremost. “Coronavirus has been challenging and tough. Some of our jobs have been shut down because of the pandemic, but we want to make sure everyone is well. We are concerned not only about workers’ well-being but also their families. We don’t want anyone to bring home any viruses or sickness. It’s our company policy to make sure our workers are okay.”
Amador is also heavily involved in the community, actively serving on the board for the School of Construction Management at Florida International University. “As a company, we advise the students and the faculty on ways to better prepare the students who want to be involved in the construction industry,” he says.
The future for Hodges Erectors is bright despite the pandemic. “We’ve picked up some big jobs so things look good for us. We’ve slowed down about 20 percent compared to a year ago, but it hasn’t been a drastic drop-off like other people,” says Amador. “We’re very busy.”