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.
The country’s late night TV entertainment has its Jimmys (Fallon and Kimmel) and a Conan (O’Brien). But, he Minnesota Building Trades has its Larry. Larry Gilbertson, the president of the Apprenticeship Coordinators Association, once again emceed the 14th Annual Injured Apprentice Dinner at Mancini’s Restaurant Monday night, Feb. 3. The annual affair raises money for the injured apprentices fund. While the mission is serious, the accompanying program always has some humor injected into it when the Gilbertson slips into stand up comedy mode: “That reminds me of a joke I heard….”
“We like to think of ourselves as a family, maybe a big, dysfunctional family, but a family nonetheless’” Gilbertson joked afterwards. “And so we need to take care of our younger brothers and sisters, especially if they are just starting out in the trades. If they are apprentices in their first couple of years, they don’t have a nest egg built up yet like some of the journeyworkers would.”
If an apprentice gets h
urt and they are off the job for more than 30 days, he or she can get a check to be used for wherever they need it. The money can be used to help pay the bills, pay the rent; it’s something to get them over the hump until they are back to work again.
Last year the fund paid out 19-20 checks to members of 12 different trades most of whom were injured off the job and thus ineligible for worker’s comp, according to Gilbertson. “Especially when you are coming into the Holiday Season and any other time when you need to have that extra cash flow, a check for $595 can really help those young folks out.”
“Off the job we are all outdoors people/folks. We’re out on snowmobilers, four wheelers, motorcycles. Sometimes those checks are going to someone who was injured in a vehicle accident,” Gilbertson explained.
“We get a great commitment from all the trades. All day long the people who are here tonight – the coordinators, the instructors, the business agents, the business managers – they work all day long helping out our apprentices yet still make time on a Monday night to help them out even more.”
When it was announced the Trades Women Build Nations Conference was coming to the Twin Cities, Minneapolis Building Trades Director of Marketing & Public Relations Jenny Winklaaar suggested one speaker she thought they should get — the only octogenarian in the United States so renown she has her own hip-hop nickname, the Notorious RBG, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
After submitting a formal request through a national association of lawyers (which went nowhere), Winklaar did her own research and called the United States Supreme Court. She selected the “Clerk of Court” option from the menu. The phone was accidentally answered by someone trying to dial out who hadn’t listened for the dial tone first. Winklaar said, “Hello.” A voice on the other end answered her back: “Hello… Who is this?” Winklaar introduced herself and told The Voice on the other end of the phone she wondered how one could request a Supreme Court justice to speak at an event. “… What?!” The Voice replied.
Winklaar explained a women’s conference was coming to Minneapolis, Minnesota, and they’d like Justice Ginsburg to speak at the event. The Voice put her on hold, but returned two minutes later with another person conferenced into the call. That led to another round on hold with yet a third person joining the conference call who said, “I’d like you to say your name; I’d like you to spell your name, and I’d like to give me the address from which you’re calling.” About that time Winklaar wondered if the FBI wasn’t on their way to detain her.
Eventually she was put through to the assistant to Justice Ginsburg who listened to her request and invited her to submit it via a special email address. Within 48 hours after sending the email, she got a personal response from RBG. With the Supreme Court starting their session, she wrote, she wouldn’t be able to attend in person. In lieu of that, she offered to do a special video address for the opening of the conference.
Looking back, Winklaar thought the women at the event “were really encouraged that RBG took time out of her schedule to encourage them.”
Vicki O’Leary, Chairwoman of North America’s Building Trades Unions (NABTU) Tradeswomen’s Committee, was standing in the back of the room waiting to be introduced as the next speaker when Ginburg’s video played for the crowd. “The young apprentices had tears in their eyes,” O’Leary recalls. “It was incredible to see how young women were made to feel like they had that sort of support.”
On Saturday September 21st Insulators Local 34 held their annual RibFest. Young and old alike attended. The food was exceptional. There were several Corn Hole Courts (Corn Hole is a bean bag toss game) , music, and several vendors that encouraged socializing after a great meal. With the huge tent, even the rain was not a factor.
I was honored to be a judge and had to suffer through sampling all of the ribs entered into the rib contest. Click the photo gallery below to see some photos of the event. Thank you Local 34 for your generosity and exceptional hospitality.
Construct Tomorrow took its show to Northern Minnesota, hosting events in Hinckley at Grand Casino and for two days in Duluth at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center. Construct Tomorrow hosted nine events, starting in Eveleth in October and ending with one at Minneapolis Cooper High School in early March. The Duluth events hosted 1,000 students from 30 schools and the Hinckley had 700 from 18 schools across that region of Minnesota.
Both venues were filled with demonstration stations where students could experiment with the tools of the different trades. Laying brick, mixing concrete, pounding nails, walking a steel beam, pulling wire with electricians — all hands on experiences allowing them to try their hand at a skilled trade. Students could practice hand-eye skills used in welding and running a backhoe via computer simulations, too. Moreover, they were able to speak directly with a union’s apprenticeship coordinator and educate themselves about the opportunities in the trades. “We tell them how much money we make, how much we put into our benefits and retirement and, basically, give them the facts about this career,” said Andrew Richmond, co-chair for Construct Tomorrow and apprenticeship coordinator for Roofers Local 96.
“Our mission with Construct Tomorrow is to get involved with the students and let them know there are other options than just going to college. They can make really good money in the different trades with benefits and the opportunity to retire someday. Schools are pushing the two or four-year programs to students and they don’t realize school isn’t for everybody,” Richmond explained.
“What’s really awesome is I take students to all kinds of college tours all over the state and this one has generated more excitement and more enthusiasm for my students and their parents than any other event that I had planned for them this year’” said Sarah Larson, academic advisor for the Cass Lake-Bena Schools who brought two van loads full of students to the Construct Tomorrow event in Hinckley. “Most of them are not familiar with the apprenticeship programs, with the training and the different job opportunities that are out there for them and this is hands on. A lot of my students that I brought down are hands on learners. They want to dig in; they want to get dirty; they want to look at the work at the end of the day and say, ‘Man, I made that’ and have that sort of pride.”
Tricia Neubarth, a guidance counselor at Harbor City International School, a charter school in Duluth, said, “I’ve got kids doing postsecondary who really aren’t sure what they want to do. Got kids here who never even touched a hammer and they are doing phenomenal or they’ve been able to walk a four-inch steel beam. It’s a great opportunity, I think, for kids to see what is out there and not just the traditional path I think a lot of people think they need to go.”
The goal of Construct Tomorrow is to attract high school students into apprentice programs and then full-fledged trades workers. The early returns are promising. Checking in at the various booths, Neubarth said she noticed the reactions of some of her students: “… and they’re like, ‘Oh, yeah, now I know this is for sure what I want to do!’”
A recent Channel 5 Eyewitness News story highlighted wage theft, employee trafficking, and employee abuse by American Contractors and Associates LLC. These practices violate the Minnesota Wage Theft Law. The Wage Theft Law is applicable to publicly funded and privately funded projects. American Contractors is owned and operated by Ricardo Batres.
In addition, American Contractors and Associates, LLC has been sighted at least twice in the past with Minnesota Department of Labor violations. Since 2018 Batres has been in violation of the Minnesota Responsible Contractor Law which prohibits his company from working on public projects for a three-year period. The specific orders from MnDLI can be viewed using the links below.
One has to question why the general contractors and contractors that are hiring subcontractors are not vetting them to see if they are responsible subcontractors?
The Fair Contracting Foundation produced a video highlighting the many apprenticeship programs in Minnesota and their facilities. The video showcases both apprentices at work and the great training facilities available for training our future craftsmen and craftswomen. Video by Vince Muzik.
What started out as a grass roots gathering in California more than a decade ago has turned into an international event. And it’s coming to Minnesota! The Minneapolis Hilton will host the 9th National Trades Women Build Nations Conference, October 4-6.
The conference begins at 7 a.m. Friday with two days of service volunteer opportunities. One is painting at Ascension Place, a women’s shelter in Minneapolis, and the other is food packing at Second Harvest Heartland, a local food shelf. On Friday evening a welcome reception sponsored by the building trades and Union Bank & Trust runs from 6-9 p.m. at the Hilton with Chase & Ovation, a Prince cover band, performing.
Saturday and Sunday will feature workshops on topics ranging from recruiting, apprenticeships, health and opioid problems, government policy, retirement and financial planning.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, women make up 47 percent of the workforce but less than 10 percent in the building trades. The trades offer great career paths and the number of women in the trades are growing. The conference allows women to garner support among each other, develop ideas to recruit more women, and navigate unique on-the-job challenges.
With an estimated attendance of 2,300 at last year’s conference in Seattle, the women’s conference has exceeded the attendance of the North American Building Trades Union’s (NABTU) Legislative Conference, the yearly gathering in Washington, D.C. where congressional leaders mingle with labor leaders. The women’s conference became international in scope when a group of women from Ireland arrived. The conference has even attracted the attention of Teen Vogue magazine.
“The career message is pretty straightforward: This is one industry where the pay is equal among the genders,” said Betsy Barnett, NABTU’s communications director. “The career opportunity is very viable for women.” More volunteers are needed for the conference. Anyone interested can sign up at the official page of the Trades Women Build Nations Conference at the NABTU web site www.nabtu.org/twbn. Or call Jenny Winklaar, director of marketing and public relations, at the Minneapolis Building Trades, at 612-817-2930.
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.”
The Women Building Success awards, created just last year to recognize outstanding women workers in the local building trades, drew a standing-room-only crowd at Surly Brewing in Minneapolis on March 6. Emceed by Jennifer Gaspersich, financial secretary for IBEW Local 292, winners and an honorable mention were awarded in the following categories:
• Apprentice of the Year: Laura Tracy, IBEW Local 110 (left-most in picture). Honorable mention: Stefany Slaney, Sprinkler Fitters Local 417.
• Journey Worker of the Year: Katie LaPlant, Carpenters Local 322 (middle in the picture). Honorable mention: Veing Paborriboon, Sheet Metal Workers Local 10.
• Advocate of the Year: Tasha Lawrence, Plumbers Local 34 (right-most in the picture). Honorable mention: Wendy Stuhr, Operating Engineers Local 49.
Also on hand to honor the event and promote this year’s upcoming Women Building Nations conference were Bobby Crider, director of operations for the North American Building Trades, and Viki O’Leary, chairwoman of the North American Building Trades Unions Tradeswomen’s Committee.
The 9th Annual Trades Women Build Nations conference will be held Oct. 4-6, 2019, at the Hilton Minneapolis. For the most up-to-date conference information, please visit www.nabtu.org/twbn.
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.”