Skyscrapers like the Freedom Tower in New York City would not be possible without concrete. Skyscrapers like the Freedom Tower in New York City would not be possible without concrete.

I’m proud to say I work in concrete, as our work inherently has integrity. My childhood was enriched by listening to my dad’s tales, like when he worked for Wil-Freds and the many yards of concrete they poured at Fermilab. We who are in concrete are all part of a bigger story: Concrete has contributed more to our civilization than any other material.

Consider there could be no skyscraper like the Freedom Tower in New York City without concrete, and the continuing legacy of Kitty Hawk depends on concrete runways. Science couldn’t advance without its state-of-art facilities, all resting on stable foundations and solid slabs. Young undergrads couldn’t fill their hungry minds without lecture halls and libraries. We wouldn’t have major cities or a way to power these cities without concrete. Remove concrete, and we would never have the Hoover Dam, a superhighway system, the Saint Louis Arch, or any of our great symphony halls.

Deserts are irrigated, factories and military bases are built, and modern hospitals, museums, aquariums, and planetariums can all exist. Without concrete, we wouldn’t have the facilities for clean water or sewer systems. Can you imagine NASA without concrete launchpads? From nuclear refineries and particle accelerators to elementary schools, concrete provides the foundation for our greatest achievements.

As for tradesmen, we are the hardest working craftsmen ever. Not everyone can handle the physical rigors of a foundation crew or master the fine nuances of finishing cement. It takes thousands of hours to get down the feel and the timing of doing our job, and frankly, I’m offended by the reputation we get when some knucklehead reflects poorly on the rest of us.

Sadly, with all of civilization resting on our backs, not everyone honors our heritage. For example, I saw in the news recently a road crew in Belize crushed the oldest pyramid in the Western Hemisphere. They pillaged limestone from a 3,000-year-old Mayan pyramid—crushing a piece of history—for backfill.

I’m not proud of this, but when I was younger I had my share of foremen who had us “borrow” our 2x12s to form up our footers or who sent us to scoop up a couple of buckets of gravel from the site next door. Some say we are nothing but drunken, illiterate ex-cons, stealing anything that’s not nailed down. Really? Is that an accurate reflection of the people who have built the civilized world as we know it?

I’ve worked with some pretty rough fellows. Guys who have done time need to work too. I’ve formed some of my best friendships on the job with some of the hardest offenders. I like how anyone, from any background, is welcome to join us.

My point isn’t we can’t hire guys with arrest records or who have addictions. Rather, our vocation is honorable and we should be proud of our trade. Let’s make an effort to uphold a better reputation.

Your crews must be trustworthy so the general contractor wants you back on his site. Fire anyone with sticky fingers and give your crews all they need to do their jobs well. Earn a stellar reputation, and the next time the roach-coach pulls up, buy everyone a cup of coffee and remind them of our role in building our civilization.

Craig Cottongim is certified in conflict resolution and is a long-time concrete finisher who is also a writer and communicator. E-mail [email protected].