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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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Local 10 Sheet Metal Workers’ Mid-Year Skills Competition

Local 10 sheet metal apprentices have been going through their version of mid-term exams. More accurately, it’s a contest between the different classes but it serves an important function – it’s a barometer for each apprentice to check where their skills levels are in the different disciplines that a qualified journey worker needs to know.

During one week in February there were three groups competing. These groups were split up by classes: first year Commercial, second year Industrial and those apprentices in the Architectural sheet metal class. 

Each class has different skills associated with common duties and applications in its area of focus. For example, the HVAC apprentices do a “duct run” they would perform in building a residential home. Ducts in a home are those silver-colored ducts near the ceiling that bring air from the air conditioning or furnace throughout a home to keep you cool in the summer or warm in the winter. They draw out the run, lay it out and then build it by bending and installing the metal.

The other classes get judged on the nuances of their specialties. The Industrial class gets tested on their welding abilities. The Architectural class designs and makes a rain cap for a chimney or a furnace exhaust. But what all three have in common is some knowledge in the use of computer assisted drawing (CAD). 

“This keeps everybody on their toes and judges where they are at,” says Cory Nelson, Metro Area Sheet Metal JATC apprenticeship coordinator. “The students enjoy the friendly competition. These guys love it.”

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Inspiring By Any Measure

Cement mason, hockey coach, fitness competitor, single mom – those are all roles Kate Zelko has in her life. Sometimes all in the same day. When you consider she often commutes from her home in Sauk Rapids to jobs in the Metro area, one wonders how she does it in a 24 hour day.

A kinesiology major at Augsburg University, after college she decided she wanted to work outside and do something physical. She actually started in the trade by answering an ad on Craig’s List for a non-union company. “I had a son and needed to make money,” she said. While working non-union on a Ryan Companies job, she was approached about joining the union. She thought the pay and benefits were hard to beat.

Being a woman in a male dominated industry didn’t intimidate her. Rather it challenged her. “I challenged myself to hang with the boys,” she explained. “In the union the men have treated me absolutely great. They are just like my brothers. When I worked non-union, it wasn’t so hot.”

Brian Farmer, Apprenticeship Coordinator at Cement Masons Local 633, recognized her commitment to the trade and hired her as a teacher at the cement masons training center. He needed someone to represent the female side of the industry, someone who could be a guide to the ever-increasing role of women in the industry. Added Zelko, “It’s been exciting working with apprentices, particularly in the role of a female mentor. For single moms like me or just women going it alone, through me I hope they realize it’s not just a man’s job. They can do it too.”

 

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Holiday Apprentice Training: Concrete Christmas 2021

At this time of year the cement masons and plasterers apprentices from Local 633 turn their indoor training center floor in New Brighton, Minn., into a winter wonderland. The theme of this year’s Concrete Christmas project was “Christmas at a Northern Lodge” which featured a dual fireplace with a 15-foot chimney. “Everything we are doing here has a real world application,” explained Brian Farmer, Apprenticeship Coordinator of Local 633 Journeyman and Apprentice JATC Training Center. “While it has an educational function, it does show the artistic nature of what can be done with concrete and plaster.” As is the case every year, the work is divided up amongst the first, second and third year apprentices, because each group has a particular skill level. Construction started Mon., Nov. 8 and finished on Mon., Dec. 6.

Often referred to as “the other four year degree,” apprentice worked-based training is an “earn while you learn” system offering students a chance to learn from the most skilled construction workers in the U.S. They start as apprentices and graduate as journey workers, a critical talent pipeline building future American infrastructure. 

Nowhere is the need for more apprentices and journey workers in the to load the pipeline more acute than in the cement masons trade. There are only 1,000 cement masons in Minnesota. “The demand is huge,” said Farmer. “Even during the pandemic in 2020, we had 1.4 million worker hours that year. That’s an incredible amount of work.”

 

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Gallup: Labor Union Approval at Generational High

This Labor Day 2021 public approval of labor unions is at a generational high. A poll released by Gallup Sept. 2 shows 68% of Americans approve of labor unions, the highest level since 1965. According to the poll, 17% of Americans live in a union household and 10% of Americans with incomes above $40,000 are union members. For those making under $40,000, union support rates at 72%. Union favorability is striking high amongst young Americans (ages 18-34) at 77%.

Through Labor Day members of the union building trades manned the AFL-CIO meet-and-greet and information exhibit at the corner of Dan Patch Avenue and Cooper Street at Minnesota State Fair, back after a COVID-related hiatus in 2020.

LiUNA organizer Octavio Chung Bustamante was one union trades member who worked the fair this year. He said he wasn’t surprised by the high marks in the poll. “It is because people realize we are for good benefits with a good pension. Plus we offer great training for our members so they can do the best possible job.”

Todd Dahlstrom, Organizing/Growth Director of the Minnesota AFL-CIO, thought that through the pandemic worker safety became an issue and unions make a difference for their members. “Having a seat at the table was important to keep workers safe during these trying times the last two years,” he said.

“Essential workers” is a phrase Americans have become familiar with during this era and union trades members have proven themselves to be just that. Added Dahlstrom, “Union trades do all the things that make the world work.”

 

 

 

 

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Union Building Trades Reach Out

Gleaming amidst the piles of rubble that were once retail establishments and the boarded up facades of stores still standing on Lake Street in Minneapolis stood the Laborers Local 563 semi tractor trailer. More than a symbolic gesture, it brought the food and grilling equipment that the Minnesota Building Trades used to give relief to residents of that neighborhood. 

For seven days following the protests and destruction after the George Floyd tragedy, members of the trades served a hot dog lunch to anyone who wanted it. From Monday June 8 through Sunday June 14, 11 a.m. – 2 p.m., members of the trades worked the grill and handed out a meal complete with chips and a bottle of water. They served in two different locations during the seven days on Lake Street. The first was in the parking lot of Target across from the Autozone car parts retailer across the street, a locale shown on CNN during the melee Friday night, May 29. The second was just down the street at the Salvation Army. 

While the Laborers supplied the fancy truck, all the trades supplied representatives to work and serve. “There hasn’t been a trade that hasn’t had someone working here,” remarked Carrie Robles of Laborers 563. “The people who’ve stopped through have been very appreciative. It’s given them a sense that we are in this together, that somebody cares. That they haven’t been forgotten about. And happy we are doing this. It’s a great feeling.”

Change and rebuilding often begin with kind gestures. Thanks, Building Trades.

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Boilermakers Keep Lakers in Ship Shape

As the weather begins to warm up and the snow begins to melt, another rite of spring begins in Minnesota — the shipping season starts on the Great Lakes. The giant ships locked in Duluth-Superior Harbor during the winter months return to the lake, passing under one of the most iconic landmarks in the state: the Aerial Lift Bridge. 

Most of the ships are not new to those dedicated to tracking the ships that come and go. Known as “lakers,” the average ship is 40-50 years old with some older than that. And they are massive, ranging from two football fields in length (600-700 feet) to three football fields (1000 feet). In spite of their age, they are very efficient. A ship can move a ton of freight (whether its mining products like taconite from Northern Minnesota to agricultural ones such as corn and soybeans) over 600 miles on one gallon of fuel.

So how does a ship that’s so old with such heavy cargo keep working? They are well-maintained. The ships that come in Duluth-Superior Harbor are worked on by the boilermakers of Local 647 throughout the winter. They brave the cold conditions that occur even inside the ship (sometimes the temperature dips to minus 20) to make needed repairs. They do a wide variety of things, from replacing floors to repairing cargo holds and conveyor belts and even replacing engines. The boilermakers’ involvement doesn’t stop at the water’s edge. They often travel with a ship to its destination port, repairing and keeping its parts functioning. 

Rarely does a laker sink on the Great Lakes. (The last one was the SS Edmund Fitzgerald in 1975.) The reason is the professionalism of the crews and the trades people who keep the ship running: the boilermakers. Thanks to Local 647 for keeping freight flowing and for keeping these vessels in ship shape.

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14th Annual Injured Apprentices Fundraiser

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 hurt 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.”

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Jenny Winklaar: Chasing the Notorious RBG

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.”

 

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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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Twin Cities IBEW EWMC Gives Back, 2018

Giving is the hallmark of the Christmas/Holiday Season. Union people don’t wait until Christmas to help their communities though; they do it year-round.

A case in point was the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) International Day of Service 2018 this November. A group of electricians representing the the IBEW’s Electrical Workers Minority Caucus (EWMC) took time on a Sat., Nov. 17, to help out two groups in the Twin Cities.

IBEW Local 110’s Mike Roberts, President of the group’s minority caucus in St. Paul, joined with fellow workers at Conway to not only fix the fixtures but do some painting as well. “I have been blessed. So, for me personally, I think I should give help others out,” Roberts said. Added Chico Marino, the Vice Chair of the Minority Caucus in St. Paul, “The IBEW’s Minority Caucus has been around for 45 years. It’s been a great way for us to become part of the communities where we live.”

In Minneapolis Local 292 installed brand new LED lighting in Little Earth’s gymnasium. “We picked Little Earth because we want to get a recruiting foothold in the Native American community by showing our support for them. We hope we can show them a profitable lifestyle in the trades as a profession is achievable for them,” explained JaCory Shipp, President of Local 292 Minority Caucus. 

“They fixed our gym, which is also our community room. It is the heart of our community at Little Earth. We play basketball in there, hold our Christmas parties in there — everything!” Jolene Jones, President of the Little Earth Residents Association, said. “We needed new lighting in there for a long time. Now, thanks to them, we’ve got it!”

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