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Posts by Vincent Muzik

Union Building Trades on Track to Help U.S. Servicemembers Through Yellow Ribbon Designation

Pictured: (Left) Pictured: Tom Simonet, Chairperson, Minnesota Employer Support of the Guard & Reserve; (right) Joe Fowler, President, Minnesota State Building & Construction Trades Council.

The Minnesota Building and Construction Trades Council held an Employer Support of the Guard and Reserves (ESGR) signing ceremony Thursday, Feb. 24, at the IUPAT Training Center in Little Canada. This is the first official step in the union building trades becoming a Yellow Ribbon Company which formally recognizes an organization’s support of service members, veterans, and military families. This statement of support exemplifies the commitment of the union trades to proactively support veterans, service members and their families.  

A Yellow Ribbon Company honors and embraces those affected by military deployments. The outward showing of support enables a successful transition into the workplace for U.S. armed forces members and creates support systems for employees affected by military deployments.

Speakers at the event included Joe Fowler, President of the Minnesota Building and Construction Trades; Major General Shawn Manke, head of the Minnesota National Guard; Roslyn Robertson, Commissioner of the Department of Labor and Industry; Bill Mulcrone, Midwest Regional Director of Helmets to Hardhats; and Tom Simonet, chair of the Minnesota Employer Support of the Guard & Reserve.

The Minnesota State Building and Construction Trades Council voted to become a Yellow Ribbon Company at their 2021 annual convention, where they resolved to establish a steering committee and to make a meaningful difference as a Yellow Ribbon organization. The Building Trades is on track to earn the Yellow Ribbon Company designation at their annual convention in July 2022. 


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March 1-7: WIC WEEK 2020

During the first week in March the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) mobilized its 118 U.S. chapters to recognize and laud the achievements of women in the building construction trades. The focus of Women in Construction Week is to highlight women as a visible component of the construction industry. Viable they are. The need for skilled construction workers is great and women are just as capable as men to do the job.  While women comprise just 2.6%, their numbers are growing.

The local NAWIC in the Twin Cities, NAWIC, had events all week beginning on Monday with a panel of Girl Scouts interested in construction careers hosted by Dunwoody College. On Friday there were closing ceremonies hosted by Ryan Companies and, on Saturday, another event at Dunwoody, YWCA Girlpower 2020, which introduces girls in grades 6-10 to the construction trades by working on home projects. 

For more information, check out the chapter’s website.




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Like Mother, Like Daughter: Brays Work Together as 49ers

When work on the I-35W Downtown to Crosstown project resumes in earnest this spring, Kim and Brittney Bray will be hard at work once again. Amidst the mountains of concrete piled high in the southbound lanes and the heavy equipment, the mother/daughter duo will be working as operating engineers and members of IUOE Local 49.

Their family legacy in the trades began with Kim’s brother who worked as a piledriver. “My brother told me they needed women and I was interested in joining the union. I went in and applied and got the job,” Kim said, now an 11-year veteran who started as a roller operator. The long hours and hard work don’t faze her. Her days as a working mother prepared her for life in the 49ers. “When I had kids when they were little I picked them up from day care and then I had to go back to work again. I’m used to working a lot.”

Her daughter Brittney graduated from Hamline with degrees in environmental studies and business. Soon thereafter she found herself at a dead end. “At the time (right out of college) I was working a call center job that I had worked at in college and I was pretty much miserable, sitting inside the office during the summer. Working at an office job stuck in a chair all day pretty much wasn’t my thing,” she explained. Like her mom, she heard the 49ers were looking for women so she applied. She made it into the apprentice program and eventually became a journeyworker.

They both enjoy the benefits of the work they do, but when they work they REALLY work. Working on the I-35W project involves long hours. During the summer, it’s meant 12-hour days, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and maybe longer, working six days a week, sometimes seven. The project involves lots of people from several different crews because the work is so varied. New bridges, walls for the sides of the highway, underground roads, utilities like water, sewer and electrical work — lots of construction you don’t see when you’re driving by. “We often work on top of each other with the different crews,” Brittney said. “You get used to the long hours. It can catch up on you as far as getting things done around the house and having a life. But the paychecks are good and the benefits are nice.”

One of the benefits for them has been having winters off from work. Brittney went to Thailand in December and Kim planned a trip to Houston for the two of them to see a Rolling Stones concert. Added Brittney, “You just have to be careful what you spend your money on during the summertime. If you budget things out, you can make it work.”

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Plasterers Help Haven for Heroes

A surprising number of veterans experience difficulty returning home from their service. An estimated 37,000 experience homelessness and are in need of treatment for mental health problems related to PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder) and traumatic brain injuries. Haven for Heroes was organized to help those vets in need of care.

Championed by Anoka State Senator Jim Abeler, Haven for Heroes is located on the campus of the former Anoka State Hospital which was closed down at the end of 1999, Haven for Heroes began in December of 2018 taking over for Eagles Healing Nest. The organization provides an substance and alcohol-free residence that helps veterans transition back into civilian life.

While the buildings on the campus (referred to as “cottages”) are striking in their architectural design, they are definitely old since the state hospital opened in 1900. But they’ve done what well-made buildings do: they were built to last. However, some are in need of skilled trades have because they’ve fallen into disrepair. Enter the Kevin Garvey, the apprenticeship instructor for Plasterers Local 265, and his group of apprentices.

During a meeting with Sen. Abeler, Garvey was asked if he would enlist his plasterers in restoring the campus. Garvey told him, “Heck, yeah, we’d love to be involved with this!” He figured it’ll be a great learning experience for his students. “It’s fantastic — absolutely fantastic! — for the kids. They’ve learned a lot and been exposed to a lot we can’t expose them to in the classroom,” he added.

Garvey has used 13 apprentices during his team’s time working on the campus, beginning by repairing water damage in Cottage 2. This past session they worked on the auditorium filled with old-school ornamental plastering. “It’s almost a living laboratory,” he said. But there’s so much to do. Some of it involves such classic, historical design it requires more time and expertise they can lend to it: “I could stay here for six months working on this.”

Not only have the apprentices gained valuable experience, they’ve benefited knowing they’ve  helped others. As Garvey explained, “They feel like they’ve done something fo the vets. Everybody loves to do something for the vets. They feel like they are doing a little part to make life easier for them, getting them off the street and with a nice place to stay.”


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Trades Raise Money for Injured Apprentices; Aske Honored

Representatives from all the trades packed the big room at Mancini’s Char House in St. Paul Monday, Feb. 4, for the Apprenticeship Coordinators Association’s Injured Apprenticeship Fundraiser Dinner. Larry Gilbertson emceed the event, which included more than a few jokes, a raffle and a presentation honoring Brian Aske, the long-time apprenticeship coordinator. Now retired, Aske worked 21 years at the Operating Engineers Training Center starting in 1997 and counseled full-time there since 2006. “Brian did a lot to further all of the union trades and was a trend-setter reaching out to women and minorities,” Gilbertson said.

Aske began his career after completing the heavy equipment program at Central Lakes College. From there he became an apprentice and then a journey worker. “The biggest change in the business has been technology. The majority of the work at an excavation site is done now with GPS,” Aske said. “The safety training has excelled too the past 20 years – protecting the worker, the employer and the public.”

“I retired with a good pension and health benefits and the satisfaction of driving around town knowing ‘I built that’,” he added. “As far as the apprentices go, I see people I knew when they were apprentices working in the field now. Hopefully, they’ll retire with the same benefits and satisfaction I did.”


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Electricians Power Up Habitat for Humanity Home

Rice County Habitat for Humanity’s latest home project is located on Willow Street, one of the city’s main throughfares in Faribault, MN. But on one particular day in February, the residence stood out from neighbors’ homes because of all the cars parked in front. Thirty electricians from IBEW Local 110 descended to install wiring and control equipment through the entire house, from the basement through the upper floor and into the garage.  

The relationship between Local 110 and Rice County Habitat for Humanity dates back to 2000. The electricians started volunteering when Rice County Habitat for Humanity could only afford to develop one house a year. In 2019, they will be able to build four or five homes thanks to the volunteers of Local 110. “The work they do is incredible. Their work saves us between $12,000 to $18,000 per house,” explain Dana Norvold, executive director of Rice County Habitat for Humanity. “Everybody knows what to do, and they get it done fast. Plus, they’re a really nice community of people.”

Not only do the electricians donate their expertise, but they supply the parts and materials as well. And there’s never been a shortage of people who want to volunteer. According to Local 110’s Jeff Anderson, they’ve been able to combine the opportunity for electricians to sharpen their skills for residential housing with some fun. “We raffle off prizes and we have a catered lunch. With so much help, we get things done fast. I think those things have kept our people coming back,” he said.

Most of the work done by IBEW Local 110 electricians is industrial or commercial, so doing a single family home is a change of pace that helps keep their residential skills sharp. “At this time of year (winter), there’s not as much work so this helps us out. We give those who drive a distance a gas card in return for their help, too,” Anderson said. “In the summer when we’re busy, it’s more of a challenge to fit our work with Habitat in. But we always have enough people who want to do it.”

You can listen to the electricians hard at work here:

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Minnesota Nice on Minnesota Ice

Residents of Minnesota don’t fear winter. They embrace it. Such was the case on Saturday, Jan. 19, when 100 kids joined their parents to go fishing on Coon Lake as part of the Take Kids Ice Fishing Day, sponsored by local Building Trades unions and co-hosted by the nonprofit Union Sportsmen’s Alliance (USA) and International Union of Elevator Constructors (IUEC) Local 9. It was the first event of its kind by the Alliance, an organization whose mission statement reads simply “to unite the union community through conservation to preserve North America’s outdoor heritage.”

Braving the frigid temperatures of a Minnesota winter — temperatures ranged from -14° in the morning to a “high” of -2°in the afternoon — was a new one for the Alliance. They do many kids fishing events all over the country, usually in the summer. Unions have found that it’s a great way to get kids out and give back to the community.  “When we talked to Dave (Morin, President of IUEC Local 9) about an opportunity to do an event, he said, ‘What about an ice fishing event?’” said Rob Stroede, Conservation Manager at USA. “I told him, ‘If you can get the volunteers, we’ll do it.’”

They got the volunteers and the kids. “We had more interest in the event than we anticipated,” Stroede elaborated. “We set out to preregister 100 kids. We had more than 100 in the first two weeks of the registration period.”

“We had about 30 volunteers to help us do this,” said Morin. “They came from all different unions, too.” The union volunteers drilled holes in a ice (with an average thickness of 15 inches), set up the portable fishing tents (called hub houses), and did other duties to soothe frozen nerves. For many people, kids and adults alike, fishing was a new experience. Union volunteers were there to mentor them through baiting hooks to finding the right depth, all in the pursuit of having the experience of catching a fish for the first time. IUEC Local 9 invested $2,500 sponsoring the event, which included prizes and a pulled pork lunch for the participants.

“A lot of kids just had fun being out here, being outside. Whatever the weather is, they’ll make the best of it…at least for a little while. It’s an opportunity for families to be together, to bond and to be outdoors,” said Stroede.

According to Randy Bast, a second year NEIEP Instructor at IUEC Local 9, union hospitality extended to two families from the Fort Worth, Texas-area who were in Minnesota over the weekend for their kid’s hockey tournament. “They saw one of the flyers for our event in a restaurant somewhere, so they came out with their sons to try ice fishing,” he said.

So how was the fishing? As one mother put it, “The fishing was cold, but the entertainment value was high.” One of the young fishermen had a different insight: “I think the fish were sleeping.”

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