Slay: ‘Right for community’
Nelson: ‘Historic moment’
By ED FINKELSTEIN
“What you are doing is right to the region, right for the community.”
With that compliment, St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay opened a press conference to introduce participants in the first BUD union pre-apprenticeship class for minorities, women and other disadvantaged groups.
BUD – Building Union Diversity – is the innovative joint effort of the St. Louis Building & Construction Trades Council, Carpenters’ District Council, and Eastern Missouri Laborers District Council to bring more diversity to the St. Louis construction scene. The program is a unique cooperative effort – the first of its kind in the U.S. – bringing labor, management, community groups, faith organizations and local government together to ensure all citizens have equal opportunity in the construction trades.
“You will be learning from the best there is,” Mayor Slay said to the first class of a dozen students: 10 African-American men, one white man, and one African-American woman. Several are unemployed veterans. The oldest person in the class is 57.
The mayor complimented the union construction industry for reaching out and making the program possible.
Jeff Aboussie, executive secretary-treasurer of the Building Trades Council, made it clear this is a partnership with the contractors and the community.
“Our unions don’t hire anyone, we train,” Aboussie said. “It’s the contractors that hire people, and the contractors have committed their cooperation with the program.”
That cooperation includes a commitment that every graduate will at least be given an interview for a job.
Aboussie noted with work picking up in the region, the program will serve as a feeder into the various union apprenticeship programs to train the skilled crafts men and women of the future.
“The program is geared for success, to give the participants training that will lead to a life-long career in construction, one that allows them to earn a good living and support a family,” he said.
The program is open to the entire St. Louis bi-state region.
‘EAGER TO LEARN’
Lisa Ramsey, 52, the lone woman in the freshman class, is a veteran and mother of two, helping to raise two grandchildren. She’s been unemployed for two years. Prior to that she worked an office job earning $10 an hour, “which wasn’t enough to even afford the company insurance,” she said.
“I’m excited,” Ramsey said. “I’m eager to learn and excited about what the future can hold for me and my family.”
A VISION AND A PLAN
Terry Nelson, executive secretary-treasurer of the Carpenters’ District Council, called this an “historic moment. We have a plan, a vision and we’re going to make it a reality because it’s the right thing to be doing.”
Aboussie has worked closely with Dr. John Gaal, director of Training & Workforce Development for the Carpenters’ District Council, for almost a year to put the BUD program together. He complimented Gaal for his expertise and support.
‘IT’S UP TO YOU’
Gary Elliott, business manager of the Eastern Missouri Laborers District Council, talked directly to the class and made it clear “While this is a great opportunity to help you, it’s up to you to make it work for you.
“You’ll be putting in a lot of sweat equity and hard work, and at the end of the day you’ll earn a good living that will allow you to raise a family,” Elliott said. “We’ll give you the tools, but you’ll have to do it.”
In the past, Elliott said, there was a reluctance on part of many unions to train women and African-Americans. “But that’s in the past,” Elliott said. “You want a good job. We’re extending a hand to make it possible.”
Michael Holmes, director of SLATE, the St. Louis Agency on Training and Employment, said he has been working union training coordinators in the building trades for some time, having them talk to people considering jobs in the construction industry to help them understand the trades and what it takes to succeed.
SLATE, along with Missouri’s Division of Workforce Development, is helping fund the BUD program, serving as the recruiting arm and conducting preliminary screenings of potential participants to ensure they meet basic requirements.
HOW IT WORKS
The initial program will have four separate classes.
After a week-long introductory program, which the participants completed last week, the students will spend a week in each of the training programs of the seven participating trades: Bricklayers Local 1, Operating Engineers Local 513, Iron Workers Local 396, Plumbers & Pipefitters Local 562, Electrical Workers Local 1, Carpenters’ District Council and Laborers’ District Council of Eastern Missouri.
The goal is to build diversity capacity for the unions and provide opportunities for long-term careers for the men and women participating, without over extending the unions apprenticeship programs of the participating trades.
Individuals who successfully complete the eight-week program, will be evaluated by the apprentice instructors to determine in which trade they have an aptitude for success. Students will then go into that trade’s apprenticeship program.
When it comes time for hiring, the first out will be journeymen on the bench, then existing apprentices, then the new apprentices in the BUD program.
BUD students excited, ready to learn
The excitement from the 12 first-time participants in the building trades new BUD program was palpable. Standing for their first press conference, there were smiles, heads nodding in agreement and a sense of pride.
“This is a great opportunity,” said Kenneth Young, 30, “It’s what I need.”
Working at a pizza joint and earning little money, Young said, “I’ve had a lot of trials and tribulations. I’m looking to better myself. I’m going to take advantage of this opportunity.”
Curtis Williams, 24, said, “This is a great opportunity for me to find something that I really want to do. That we’ll get training in all the trades will help me find out what I can do to be successful.”
Williams previously he worked in a warehouse and with a temporary services agency.
Benjamin Orwig, 40, said he felt blessed to be a part of this program. “There’s a lot at stake,” he said. “This is something that really matters. I’ve never really had formal training before. I thank the people who are making this possible for me, and for the others here. It’s a great opportunity.
Orwig has been unemployed for three years.
Lisa Ramsay, 52, an Air Force veteran and grandmother, has been unemployed for several years. “I wanted a change, to work with my hands,” she said. “I’m eager to learn, to get the training. I’m geeked up for this!”
The BUD program may become a model for other communities.
Henryetta Andrade, director of the UAW Labor Employment and Training Corporation in Los Angeles, Calif., was on hand last week to observe the announcement.
“We would like to do something like this in LA,” she told the Labor Tribune.
SLATE, Dr. John Gaal of the Carpenters’ District Council and Jeff Aboussie of the St. Louis Building & Construction Trades Council all offered Andrade their help.