"Rodbusters," by Alpha Unit

For millenia humans have created structures out of concrete. The Romans preferred concrete to all other construction materials, and their unique formula is the reason so many of ancient Rome’s monuments are still standing. The concrete we use today, while different from Roman concrete, is an excellent building material but as strong as it is, it has almost no tensile strength: it can’t withstand much pulling or stretching. For that reason builders reinforce it with rebar.

These metal rods, which have spaced patterns of bumps or swirls to help the concrete grip them, allow concrete to bend and flex without cracking or breaking. Rodbusters, the ironworkers who install rebar, have one of the most physically demanding jobs in construction.

Rodbusters will tell you that their shoulders especially take a pounding. They do a lot of lifting, and routinely carry heavy rebar on their shoulders. During hot weather, shoulder burns from hoisting hot steel rods are common. Here’s how one rodbuster describes his work:

Your back is shot, shoulders are raped, you can’t walk from being in the SLDL position all day long, and you literally have no free time aside from our [mandated] breaks.

Another rodbuster has pretty much the same view:

It’s good clean work…but it’s hell on the body. Carrying 150-180 pounds of 30′ rods all day gives your lower back, shoulders, and legs a beating. Not to mention tying [rebar] all day long as well. Picture being in the SLDL start position for five minutes at a time.

SLDL stands for Stiff Legged Deadlift.

Once a rodbuster positions the rebar, he ties it together with wire. He has to wrap wire securely around any area with two or more rebar sections that intersect or overlap. Tied corners are weak, so he installs bent rebar at corners. A job might involve cutting or welding.

Tying rebar requires fast, repetitive hand and arm movements while applying a lot of force. When a rodbuster ties rebar at ground level, he typically works in a stooped position, with his body bent deeply forward. A rodbuster informs us:

For a career as a rodbuster, you’re always bunched forward. You can always tell a rodbuster by how he looks.

Ironworkers in the United States have been represented since 1896 by the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental, and Reinforcing Iron Workers. But throughout the country there are rodbusters working without a union contract.

Some non-union rodbusters have walked off the job to protest working conditions. They report making significantly less than the national average for reinforcing ironworkers. They say they can work 18-hour days sometimes, without warning. There are no health benefits, and if there is an accident, it might not get reported to OSHA. Such protests have taken place in Vancouver, Washington; in Houston, Texas; and in Manchester, Tennessee.

Union or non-union, if you can set and tie rebar, you have a skill that’s in demand. Some ironworkers say that in their line of work, the sooner you get in and get out, the better off you are. As one of them put it:

I was a rodbuster for over 30 years, and if you go that route you will find out GOD fucking hates you. The first two weeks every muscle in your body will fucking hate you. But remember this, you are not the only one that will do it or has been through it, and you will survive.

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7 thoughts on “"Rodbusters," by Alpha Unit”

  1. Thanks for posting this, Alpha. I think we take for granted so many down and dirty jobs out there that faceless, nameless men get up at the crack of down to do. These jobs are totally necessary for our civilization even though they are considered backbreaking low-prestige jobs. Hats off to these blue-collar workers who build our infrastructure from scratch and make our convenient lives possible. I have nothing but respect for them.

  2. I was a rodbuster for over 30 years, and if you go that route you will find out GOD fucking hates you. The first two weeks every muscle in your body will fucking hate you. But remember this, you are not the only one that will do it or has been through it, and you will survive.
    I hate capitalism now. Even though I have a more comfortable desk job, it can be taxing on the body as I am glued to the computer in one position for several hours. Moreover no matter what job I take, a situation always arises where I have to cover for incompetent co-workers. We all need money to survive but I feel sometimes that I am the only one working long hours and night shifts without so much as a thank you from the ingrates.

  3. Rod buster from Canada here,
    Well put good sir.
    I have had the misfortune to work non union for the first year of my career, it’s worse than you think.
    All weather, dirty, grueling, dangerous conditions, are the same union or not,
    But having to work on the top of a high-rise during a lightning storm, because they refused to shut the job down because they couldn’t afford delays(for $16 an hour!!)was an eye opener, that sometimes the hardest workers are valued the least, and you are seen as simply a vessel for making money.
    All things aside, there is a huge satisfaction in knowing that your skillset can literally build a skyscraper with you guys bare hands. And that’s something that not everyone can say.
    Thankfully I work union now, but I really feel for the guys who I use to work with who don’t have the same rights and protection that I get.
    Roddies are some of the most colorful individuals that you will ever meet,
    We may butt heads occasionally, but at the end of the day, almost nobody can lift a 40′ piece of 35m by themselves.
    You have to work as a team, end of story.
    So rebar can be thought of as almost like an extreme team sport. To the greenhorns on your crew, there is s somewhat cruel necessity to weed out the weak.
    So everyone gets hazed to one extent or another, and If you aren’t thick skinned, and you aren’t a team player, you have no business being there, and you will know within the first few days that not everyone has the heart to be a rodman.
    It is a job that will push you to your breaking point, and then mock you every step of the way, if you aren’t headstrong, you will not make it. It’s brutal, and unforgiving, but at the same time, one of the most unforgettable experiences to having come out on top.
    It has its own rewards I guess,
    Knowing that your blood, sweat and tears created something that will be there long after you are gone.
    that’s why I’m proud have earned the right to call myself a rodbuster.

  4. Bashed hands and fingers, always a finger nail bleeding, arms scraped, sore wrists from repetitive tieing, back and shoulders in a knot and a hernia to the scrotum. Covered in dirt and rust while sweat burns the eyes, wasps are attracted to reflective vests. Other occasional hernias too.

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