This past spring, 42-year-old O’Neil, a member of ironworkers’ union Local 1, found himself jobless for the first time in his five years in construction. After collecting unemployment checks for two months, he was able to get on a high-rise job tying rebar for locally based Walsh Construction.

O’Neil now is trying to pick up the pieces from his recent financial troubles. "People say the economy’s fine but I can’t tell," he says.

O’NEIL Wants Bush out in ’05. FREEMAN Still mulling it over.
(Photos by Tudor Hampton for ENR)

In Illinois, the year has been especially cool for firms not building new homes. For the first six months, housing grew 14% over the same period in 2003, according to McGraw-Hill Construction Analytics, like ENR, a division of McGraw-Hill Construction. Nonresidential buildings grew 11%, but nonbuilding projects dropped 32% overall.

Like most workers across Illinois, O’Neil says he supports Democratic Sen. John Kerry and his union’s objective of voting President George W. Bush out of office.


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The Bush administration is "so worried about what’s happening everywhere else in the world" but isn’t sponsoring enough public projects, such as federally funded transportation, O’Neil says.

Other craftworkers in Chicago agree that jobs will be on the line Nov. 2. "This probably is the most important election in a number of years," says Mike Freeman, a crane operator and member of operating engineers’ union Local 150. Like his union, he is still undecided but he speculates that most operators will vote for Kerry. Rick Heinz, a member of laborers’ union Local 477 in downstate Rushville, Ill., also hasn’t made a final decision but hopes that Kerry, if elected, "can do the same, if not better" than Bush, he says. His union endorses Kerry.

For some, public works is irrelevant. Don Zirbel, a Chicago-based technical engineer and member of plumbers’ union Local 130, says he supports Bush despite his union’s endorsement because "family issues" are most important. "Generally, you don’t see the type of viewpoint that I have," he admits.

or Eric O’Neil, an African-American ironworker who lives on Chicago’s South Side, work hasn’t gone so well this year.