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Posts by Gary Johnson

Construct Tomorrow Closes Strong, Faces Challenges Ahead for ’23-24

Construct Tomorrow concluded its 2022-23 season with its traditional two-day event at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center (DECC) for high school students in Minnesota’s Bold North. That event also includes a community night where adults seeking a career in the trades can have the same experience as the high schoolers.

Four years ago Nick Tracy, then a senior at Proctor high School, was one of those students attending Construct Tomorrow. Now he’s a carpenter’s apprentice with Local 361 working just down the highway from the DECC on the Twin Ports Interchange highway project where I-35 and U.S. 53 merge, often referred to as the “can of worms.”

“At Construct Tomorrow they were really straightforward. Here’s what it is and here’s what you make,” explained Tracy. “Out of all the school field trips, this is the one I enjoyed more than the college visits where I got the feeling they feed you full of crap.”

One of the biggest challenges the program faced this past year was just dealing with personnel. New faces were found in old places whether it was with the trades or in the schools. “A lot of people retired after COVID or switched jobs,” Kim Schrupp, ​Co-Chair of Construct Tomorrow, said. “It led to spending time building key relationships again.”

Construct Tomorrow is planning to do eight events again next school year with some of the same locations (Eveleth and Morehead) and a few new ones. One of them will be River Center in downtown St. Paul, a generous donation from Ramsey County.

One critical issue remains – funding. Funding through the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) ended earlier this year in 2023. “We are looking for new grant money, sponsorships, donations from contractors and suppliers,” said Schrupp. A July 25 fundraiser is planned at Top Golf in Brooklyn Center. The cost is  $1200 a bay which also includes lunch. Register online at Construction Careers Foundation. 



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New Faces, New Futures for 62 BSC Graduates

Sixty-two future union trades apprentices graduated from the Building Strong Communities Program this May, double the number from the previous year. Developed in partnership with the Minneapolis Building and Construction Trade Council, North Hennepin Community College, trade unions and community partners, Building Strong Communities (BSC) is a multi-trade apprenticeship preparatory program that prepares participants for a career in the construction industry. And those opportunities weren’t long in coming: More than half of the graduates had employment opportunities lined up by the time they graduated. 

“What I said today when they graduated was I’m so happy for them because they are starting a career I’m just ending – and I’m jealous,” Executive Director Rick Matagon said. “I had so much fun out in the field.”

Each of the graduates will have a career in a trade they choose, make a great living, continue their education in registered apprenticeship programs and, ultimately, wind up as a journeyworker with all the benefits a career in the trades provides.

Crystal Carter was stuck in a dead end job and wanted a career she “could grow with.” A young mother with two boys, that’s easier said than done. But the Building Strong Communities team encouraged her to continue through every part of the program. 

“The BS team was nothing but welcoming and encouraging to me through everything. I never want to be in a position again where I have to rely on anyone to provide for me and my boys,” she said. “By getting into the union, by getting into the trades, I’m able to pay my bills and have extra to support them and do fun things with.”

For Eric Frazier, Building Strong Communities has been life-changing since Day One because it’s given him a second chance. He spent 23 years in prison as a non-violent drug offender. “I love working with my hands. I feel at home,” he said. “Don’t let the age fool you. I can get my knees dirty like the young guys.”

For the graduates, it’s just the beginning. In twenty or thirty years from now they’ll have retired from a career in a trade of choice. And what could be better than that?


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Local 49 Students Progress from Virtual to Actual Trainees

High school students from across Minnesota enrolled in the Operating Engineers’ Pathway Program run by the Minnesota Virtual Academy finally got their chance to experience operating heavy equipment. This year’s event kicked off at the Local 49 training Center outside Hinckley, Minn. on the second Saturday in February. Now in its third year, high schoolers from 9th through 12th grade take four, one-semester courses online that cover a multitude of topics from construction math to equipment fundamentals. The program is, in effect, a three-for-one deal because the students can earn high school, college and apprenticeship credit while exploring a career as an operating engineer.

But that Saturday was the day when they got a well-rounded opportunity to get a hands on experience from running a piece of equipment and learning the mechanics of it from an experienced engineer to the technology side of GPS. In fact, 18 of the students had already taken the test regarded as the Operating Engineers entrance exam, the Ramsey Test.

“The biggest thing is the program is giving high school-aged students is the opportunity to see more aspects of our industry beyond carpentry. That’s never been the case in the past,” said Steve Tuhy, the training center’s apprenticeship coordinator. “The kids are now able to make an educated decision. It’s not just a dream. There’s more of a drive because they’ve tried it and know it’s really for them.”

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More Than 10,000 Served…

Starting with Indiana in 2015—followed by West Virginia in 2016; Arkansas, Kentucky, and Wisconsin in 2017; and Michigan in 2018—the construction industry faced a repeal wave against state Prevailing Wage Laws. These attacks were spearheaded by a network of corporate-funded nonprofits and think tanks, and were portrayed as saving hundreds of millions of dollars for taxpayers. This was arguably the largest concerted attack on unionized construction in four decades.

Despite a deluge of propaganda claiming the repeals would save hundreds of millions of dollars each year, these efforts have done nothing to improve the quality of infrastructure or save taxpayers money. That’s because Prevailing Wage Laws were originally created to protect local construction markets from being undercut by non-local contractors who exploit cheap, low skilled labor to “game” low bid requirements on taxpayer-funded infrastructure projects. In essence, these laws level the playing field for contractors by preventing higher quality contractors from being artificially excluded from bidding on infrastructure projects.

By repealing Prevailing Wage, these six states opened the door for the lowest quality contractors to dominate their industry by using cheaper—i.e., not more efficient, not more productive, not more highly trained, simply cheaper—sources of labor. It doesn’t matter how much you decrease construction workers’ wages. If those workers have less skills and the project takes longer to complete, governments cannot generate savings. They are simply left with lower quality infrastructure and a lower quality construction industry.

By 2016, the union construction industry recognized that a different strategy was required to resist these attacks. At that summer’s annual conference of the National Alliance for Fair Contracting, FCF learned from the Kentucky delegation that a significant factor in the state’s effort to repeal Prevailing Wage and pass so-called “Right-to-Work” was a lack of awareness and urgency among Building Trades members. Too many skilled craftworkers were unaware of how these laws impacted the health of their industry, and were not engaged with the issue.

In Minnesota, FCF took that deficiency to heart. Beginning in January 2017, FCF coordinated with the Building Trades apprenticeship programs to create presentations for their classes about Prevailing Wage. We work closely with the program administrators to present when it best fits each program’s schedule. FCF has spoken to small classes of advanced apprentices who are close to becoming full journeyworkers, as well as large groups of newly minted apprentices who are just beginning their careers. Since those early days, FCF has given nearly 400 presentations, speaking to just over 10,000 apprentices (10,121 as of February 2023). We are very proud to have reached this milestone.

During these sessions, we discuss the history of Prevailing Wage, the multitude of economic research on the law’s impacts on the construction industry and workforce, as well as how anti-Prevailing Wage propaganda is created and spread. FCF has sought to continuously update and improve these presentations as new research is published. FCF has adapted and continued this outreach throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, creating videos for virtual Q&A sessions when in-person discussions were not possible. As the world moves back towards normal, we have greatly enjoyed the opportunity to speak with students in person once again.

An informed apprentice becomes an informed journeyworker. We look forward to continue spreading the truth and value of Prevailing Wage to tomorrow’s unionized construction workforce.

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Union Building Trades Help Bring Bentleyville to Life

Now in its 19th year, Bentleyville, the nation’s largest walk-through Christmas light display, once again lights up Bayfront Park on the Lake Superior shoreline in Duluth with five million lights.  The 128-foot Christmas tree made by Iron Workers Local 512 glistens in the evening sky next to Duluth Harbor at the center of the festival.  “It’s truly the centerpiece not only of Bentleyville but of the city of Duluth,” said Nathan Bentley, founder of Bentleyville. 

According to Brian Nelson, Region B Apprentice Coordinator, the tree is built in three sections at the training facility in Hermantown. It’s then trucked down to Bayfront Festival Park and assembled over the course of two days in October. “We usually have a crew of 15 iron workers, an operator running the crane, and we all volunteer,” Nelson explained.

One addition to Bentleyville this year is the expanded gift shop. The previous one was 800 square feet. The new one constructed by the iron workers and the carpenters local has 4,000 square feet. “All the unions mean very, very much to Bentleyville. Their great partnership has made Bentleyville what it is today with their community support,” Bentley said. 

“It’s amazing to be a mayor of a community where we have this kind of support for a beautiful free event for hundreds of thousands of families,” Duluth Mayor Emily Larson said. “Duluth has 86,000 residents. Over the course of the Bentleyville season we’ll have 200,000-300,000 people come through here. It’s incredible.”

Bentleyville runs in the evening seven days a week through Dec. 26.  For more information, check the Bentleyville web site.

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Construct Tomorrow: Uniting Students with Careers in the Trades

Now in its 10th year, Construct Tomorrow continues to unite young people with futures in the building construction trades. With participation from the union trades members, students can get hands-on experience to a life in trades with tools not available in school like virtual welding and excavation in a simulator. They also get first-hand knowledge of the lifestyle benefits, the solid wages and well-earned pensions from members who have lived the career experience.

Two seniors from Ely, Minn., made the hour-long drive down to the Eveleth event and found it very practical. Luna Klingsporn got into an iron worker’s harness and walked across a beam suspended several feet above the floor. “I thought it was really fun, doing the beam thing and getting to walk across. But I’m kinda terrified of heights sometimes.” She discovered, however, bricklaying might be more to her liking. “That was cool… to see how you could do that.” Her friend Madelin Gruba, who’s headed to Hibbing Community College next year to study HVAC, said she “asked a lot about the apprenticeship process.”

With two events already completed (Moorhead and Ely), Construct Tomorrow forges ahead with another eight events during the 2022-23 school year. Three more are scheduled this calendar year (Rochester, Mankato and Brooklyn Center) with five more in 2023 (St. Cloud, Hinckley, Shakopee, Forest Lake and Duluth).

To check out future Construct Tomorrow events, please check out their web site,

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Gallup Labor Day Poll 2022: Labor Unions Approval Continues to Rise

Labor unions’ favorability among Americans has improved even more since last year according to a poll released this week by Gallup, the internationally renowned polling organization. Seventy-one percent of Americans now approve of labor unions, up from 64% before the pandemic. It’s now at the highest level Gallup has recorded since 1965.

Sixteen percent of Americans live in a household with one person who’s a union member, down one percent from last year’s poll. But that number is still within the 14% to 21% range Gallup has recorded on union households since 2001.

According to Gallup, the most important reasons for joining a union are better pay and benefits (65%) and employee rights and representation (57%). Minnesota State Building and Construction Trades Council President Joe Fowler weighed in on the poll’s results: “We have a favorable environment now because people want representation. They want their voices heard. The way to do that is as a collective voice through labor.”

It’s no surprise the benefits package is an important factor in union membership. Added Fowler, “And we offer a quality product as organized labor. With good wages and training that benefits workers. Healthcare and medical costs are important, too, because you are better off buying those as a collective than buying it on your own.”

Gallop’s “Bottom Line” on the poll included this summation: “The low unemployment rate that developed during the pandemic altered the balance of power between employers and employees, creating an environment fostering union membership that has resulted in the formation of unions at several high-profile companies. While already on an upswing, public approval of unions has only increased further during the pandemic and is now at a level not seen in nearly six decades.”


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Building Trades: Keeping Their Promise

As part of its commitment to become a Yellow Ribbon Company, Laborers Local 563
provided support from cooking to supervising the Minnesota National Guard’s Family Fun Day in June. “We are working to become a Beyond the Yellow Ribbon organization at the state building trades level,” said Local 563 member and Minnesota Building Trades President Joe Fowler. The local regularly does job site feeds, bringing out their tractor-trailer which easily transports cooking grills and all the necessary supplies to feed, in this case, a small army. “They were expecting 1,200 people but I think they surpassed that.”

Minnesota has one of the largest contingents of National Guard in the nation. But when a soldier is called up and deployed, their family shares in the sacrifice. Beyond the Yellow Ribbon embraces those affected by military deployments, helping them through a myriad of resources provided by local businesses to navigate everyday life with a family member gone. Adds Fowler, “We are fortunate to be apart of it.”

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LIUNA Mixes Fun with Serious Health Prevention Counsel

After receiving feedback from LIUNA members, health providers and LINUA leadership, Local 563 incorporated those suggestions into this year’s health fair at their training center in Hugo, Minn. It also gave the local a chance to showcase their new 37,000-foot addition at the center, the Fred Chase Building.

“First off, it was great to get our events going again and secondly, it was wonderful to provide a great health fair experience for all 1,000 of our attendees and participants,” explained Dwight Engen, steering committee team member for Local 563.

Aside from the usual opportunities for members to sign up for hearing checks, mammograms and to donate blood, the mission this year was to place a special focus on mental health with the This Amazing Life interactive exhibit put on by Sand Creek EAP. Speakers included Bob Swanson with a message on suicide prevention and, on a lighter note, outdoor enthusiasts and TV personalities Ron and Laura Schara.

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Women’s Participation in the Building Trades Coming to Fruition

The fourth annual Women Building Success Awards came back this month, two and a half years after the last ceremony was held and this time at a new venue, Kellmerman’s Event Center in White Bear Lake. The program was created in 2017 to recognize outstanding women workers in the local building trades.

The term “paying it forward” was evident in the women who won awards. Terri Stave, winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award, began her career with Elevator Constructors Local 9 as a 19-year-old. Now retired from her trailblazing career, she went on to be an instructor and business agent with Local 9. On the other end of the career arc are Marissa Goodsky, winner of the Journeyperson of the Year, and runner up for Advocate of the Year, Rosey Grab. Goodsky has begun teaching with Cement Masons Local 633; Grab is still an apprentice with Operating Engineers Local 49.

“We have these programs encouraging women to have a career in the building trades, hoping that they are wildly successful,” said Jenny Winkelaar, Local 49 members and a board member of Women Building Success. “We are seeing our programs are successful at retaining people. We believe we are starting to see future leaders.”

Winners and an honorable mention were awarded in the following categories:

● Lifetime Achievement Award – Terri Stave, a retired member, instructor and officer with Elevator Constructors Local 9.

● Apprentice of the Year – Karin Dahlin, Pipefitters Local 539. Honorable Mention: Dani Moss, Laborers (LIUNA) Local 563 and Claire Boeke, Carpenters Local 322.

● Journeyworker of the Year – Marissa Goodsky, Cement Masons Local 633. Honorable Mention: Brittney Bray, Operating Engineers Local 49

● Advocate of the Year –Robin Chuhel, IBEW Local 110. Honorable Mention: Rosey Grab, Operating Engineers Local 49.

In addition to the award, winners in each category received a $300 honorarium and a set of Milwaukee tools. Honorable mention recipients received $100 honorariums.

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Spring Training for Pilederivers

During the spring the Minnesota Twins head to Florida for spring training. The Piledrivers of Local 1847, on the other hand, head north to Hinckley, Minn., to practice their trade at the Local 49 Training Center. “We are cross training with the 49ers,” explained Danre Vitullo, instructor for Local 1847. “Without the operating engineers, we can’t do our work. And without us they can’t do the piledriving which reinforces the foundation a large structure sits on.” Those large structures are the things we depend on – bridges, buildings, power plants, etc.

The collaboration between the operating engineers and the piledrivers existed for five years prior to Covid 19 curtailing the program for two years. With 24 piledrivers on board, this year’s group surpassed Vitullo’s expectations with their participation: “I told them to ask all the questions you have. If you have a question, somebody else probably does too. This is the time and place to do it.”

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Bricklayers Compete for Excellence

Competition sparks excellence. The bricklayers of BAC 1 believe if it doesn’t spark excellence, it certainly does focus the mind. “If the specs call for brick to placed to a certain distance, the bricklayer has to be right on with their measurements,” explained John Slama, Masonry Coordinator at the BAC Training Center in New Hope. “If it doesn’t match what the contractor wants done, you won’t get paid.”

On a rainy day in late April, bricklayer apprentices tested their on-the-job knowledge in their annual skills competition. The bricklayer apprentices competed between classes (first, second and third year) and within the two different divisions, the brick division and the Pointer-Cleaner-Caulker (PCC).

Each apprentice is given a blueprint. In order to raise the bar of difficulty, placed inside the design is a color pattern. On the job there’s a lot of detail work, which they incorporate into the competition. Plus the contestants only get a few hours to complete the project. The judges are rigorous in measuring the specifics as well, and not just by a tape measure but by using a step gauge.

“Three or four years ago I did it,” said journeyman bricklayer Jesse Stonehouse who made it to the national competition. “You feel an immense amount of pressure. Pressure from our foremen and journeymen standing around judging what you do. The pressure to uphold the union standard that you are taught every single day and to do it in a time-cruched situation… it can become pretty intense.”

Keanan Carlson and Riley Strate were the top two finishers in the bricklayers division and move onto regionals in Chicago June 18. Greyson Cunningham and Joel Aaser will compete for BAC Local 1 in the PCC division a week later in Ohio.

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