Robot Welders Work on Tappan Zee Bridge

Robotic welders are now union members and earn $46.82 an hour.

No kidding, they are union members.

Crews building New York's new Tappan Zee Bridge have a new crew to help install about 1,000 steel piles in the Hudson River -- robotic welders who are paid the same as union welders.

A team of Gulf Coast workers is using patented state-of-the-art robotic welders at the Tappan Zee Bridge site to speed up the enormous task of installing some 1,000 steel piles in the Hudson River, The Journal News has learned.

Six welders from Wilkinson Technologies, based in Lafayette, Louisiana, have been on the job since April. They are now members of Dockbuilders and Timbermen Local 1556 and earning the same wage — $46.82 an hour — as local union welders, officials say.

Wilkinson specializes in robotic welding machines, which bridge construction crews will use to connect giant sections of steel piles before they are driven into the riverbed. The piles will form the foundation and support the new twin span.

Some of the largest piles measure 8 feet in diameter and can take up to 12 hours to manually weld together.

"If you can mechanize versus doing something manually, you're way ahead of the game in any welding operation," said David McQuaid, a welding expert who has consulted on the project. "You get faster production, better quality."

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