Helping to Unsnarl LAX

Consolidated Rent-a-Care Facility Showcases Massive Scale, Women Workers

By Oren Peleg

With 6.4 million square feet, a $2 billion price tag, a gas station that can service nearly 100 cars at a time, and space for some 18,000 parking spots, the Consolidated Rent-A-Car Facility (or ConRAC) at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) is a mammoth project. In fact, the ConRAC is the second-largest concrete structure in the country, second only to the Pentagon.

“On each level, you can put 16 football fields,” says Torrance Woods, a Local 11 member and the site superintendent of the project for Morrow-Meadows, which is doing the electrical work.

LAX hired PCL Construction Services as the general contractor and Local 11 signatory Morrow-Meadows as the subcontractor for the electrical systems. With more than 300 Local 11 members working on the project since work began three years ago, including 250 currently on the job, the ConRAC is one of the largest projects in Local 11’s history.

The ConRAC is so massive that to power it, the LA Department of Water and Power (LADWP) has a separate building that brings service in from the street and branches out from there. Woods points to a smaller building behind the ConRAC, connected to it by two bridges, and notes that it’s the world’s largest gas station. The scale of the site is so massive that city planners are constructing a new freeway ramp in anticipation of the traffic flows.

The five-story structure will house all the rental car traffic and service for LAX beginning in 2023. Showcasing a large room hidden in the middle of the ConRAC’s ground floor, he points to a closet-sized machine, one of nine switchgears — which is a lot for any project.

“We have four generators,” Woods says, “so they thought of everything.”

LAX is consistently one of the busiest airports in the world, yet it is plagued by congestion around an outdated traffic loop inside the airport that spills out well beyond the airport itself. When the ConRAC opens, travelers will be shuttled back and forth to LAX on the Automated People Mover (APM), which is also connected to two mega-parking structures and Metro’s Crenshaw Line. Ultimately, this new transit network will help alleviate the notoriously bad traffic around the airport and the surrounding neighborhoods, especially when the World Cup and Olympic Games arrive in the next few years.

From a job site perspective, hundreds of people working throughout a 6.4 million square-foot facility can create very real challenges. “The biggest challenge on this jobsite is safety,” says Zuzanna Cermak, a third-year apprentice. “Keeping your head on swivel, being mindful of overhead work while you’re underneath or while you’re working up above, just staying safe and going home safe to our families every day — that’s the biggest struggle.”

There are some unique and exciting elements of the project as well. Sheyonna “Big Shey” Grayson, a third-year apprentice, describes a wall of segmented bins she created that are exposed and look like a piece of art. “People are going to walk by and see my work and judge my work,” she says, “so it has to be perfect, and that’s something that’s brand new for me something I’m actually really excited I’ve gotten to do.”

Such a large team also means significant diversity. Formerly incarcerated members who have been through the Second Call program have worked at the ConRAC. The crew also includes a larger-than-average number of women, an environment that Local 11 journeywoman Monica Brogdon enjoys.

“They usually don’t give females technical or challenging work,” says Brogdon. “So, having the opportunity to touch it, to try it, to learn it, to work it and to see it turn on has been amazing. A lot of times, people believe females don’t have the capability of doing things. It’s just a matter of being seen.”

As many of the women on this job site have noted, having multiple women on a single project — let alone a forewoman, a journeywoman and multiple female apprentices is quite rare. “I’m going to be able to hold on to this for the rest of my career, because I don’t know when it’ll ever happen again,” says Grayson.

That diversity can be felt within the team. Brogdon attributes the communicative, supportive environment of this job to her forewoman, Krystale Dolly.

“It’s because she’s a mother and she’s a woman. Yeah, I’ll say that,” Brogdon largely says, with a laugh. “I really think it makes a difference because a lot of times you would have to balance family with life, and bringing those life skills into the job makes a difference.”

For her part, Dolly appreciates being placed in a situation and given the resources to thrive.

“Being a female foreman out here is always going to be challenging, but I’ve been with Morrow-Meadows for nine years,” she says. “The guys I’ve worked with have trained me and given me the knowledge and the opportunity to succeed. I feel very fortunate and lucky to be here, and, at the same time, to be able to educate myself through the schooling of the ETI that IBEW provides. I’ve taken that education and evolved and decided to thrive in other avenues.”

First-year apprentice Marcia Burke has also found the teamwork and professional environment at the ConRAC fulfilling.

“It’s wonderful to see women of all colors and races here, and they’re very supportive, very helpful, asking ‘What do you need?’ or saying, ‘This is the type of tool you need to buy. Make sure you’re wearing your kneepads,’” says Burke. “Just across the board, the support system is fabulous. It’s great to have that camaraderie too, and just as a female, to bond.”

Grayson is especially appreciative of the fact that the ConRAC site has proven to be a place where she can learn new skills while on the job. Grayson had never previously done lighting. She has since learned how to install light fixtures and make up boxes and learned the code to follow when doing installations.

“A lot of the tasks that I’ve been given have been brand new for me, and I am learning how to do them,” Grayson says. “I’m here to learn. I ask lots of questions. I’m sure that every day I leave with something in my pocket as far as new knowledge that I can take and grow from.”

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