Skip to main content Skip to search

Union

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

Construct Tomorrow: Events are Canceled, Futures are Not

Construct Tomorrow finished its 2019-20 schedule after scheduling nine events across Minnesota, but doing just eight. “We had to cancel our Moorhead even in late March,” said Tim Bussse, Executive Director of Construct Tomorrow. “It was really disappointing because they did a lot of work. Given the situation with the governor’s restrictions on public gatherings due to COVID-19, there’s nothing we could do. We promised them we’d be back next year though!”

Construct Tomorrow will continue the career fairs into the future. Before the global pandemic interrupted everyday commerce, the events were on track to attract approximately 8,000 Minnesota high school students. When it comes to feedback from the events, Busse says students actions speak louder than words. With activities from all the different trades on hand (from pounding nails to working with wet cement), it’s easy to witness their curiosity from their involvement. The most direct feedback comes from teachers and school counselors, however. “More often than not they are pleasantly surprised at how engaged their students were at the event,” he said.

Construct Tomorrow measures success directly by the number of students who enroll in the trades after high school. “We don’t have specific numbers — which is something we have to work on — between Construct Tomorrow and the other events that recruit students into construction trades apprenticeship programs,” Busse said. “The numbers are going up, but we need to put it all together so there is that bright line between the two.”

Going forward, one change that may be coming to select events will be the addition of an evening session geared toward adults. In some markets, the demand for workers is so pronounced that finding people who can move into apprentice training programs right away is a priority. “High school students are playing for the long game, expanding their career horizons. The evening session would be to the general public. Ideally we’d like kids to come back at night with their parents, but it would mainly be geared for adults who want to do more. People who are underemployed, who want to switch careers,” Busse said.

For example, one market that’s a candidate for the evening session is Duluth. The city is amidst a $300(m) hospital building project along with highway construction projects in the works. Northern Minnesota is bustling with construction activity and needs workers who don’t merely tolerate winter weather, but embrace it. As Busse put it, “We are looking forward to next year, recruiting the next generation who want to work in the trades — and enjoy the benefits of being in the trades.”

Here are some reactions from four guidance counselors who attended Construct Tomorrow events with their students:

Read more

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 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.”

Read more

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.”

 

Read more

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:

Read more

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.”

Read more

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!”

Read more