Building Union Diversity program graduates third class

BUD Graduates
BUD GRADUATES: St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger and St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay turned out to congratulate the most recent class of Building Union Diversity (BUD) program graduates. Pictured are (from left) Stenger, graduates Daniel Truran, Charles McElroy, James Wilson and Gerlonda Brown, Mayor Slay, and graduates Warren Holmes, Bobby Jones, Keona Dunn, Reginald Alexander, Barbara Huelsing, Earnest Hamilton and Lamarr Smith. – Labor Tribune photo

Investment in apprenticeships gains national attention

Celebrating National Apprenticeship Week, the building trades involved in the Building Union Diversity (BUD) program, held a graduation ceremony Nov. 4 at the Associated General Contractors training center in St. Louis.

In its inaugural year, the Building Union Diversity (BUD) program has taken 33 people through a seven-week session designed to help prepare minorities and women for a career in construction by exposing them to the skills requirements of several different trades.

The most recent class included 11 participants.

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BUD’s retention rates are outstanding. More than 80 percent of graduates have found union work.

That’s essential, says Jeff Aboussie, executive secretary-treasurer of the St. Louis Building and Construction Trades Council. “Putting people into programs isn’t worth anything if you can’t get them indentured (and) graduated to become journeymen

“Our apprenticeship programs are the backbone of the unionized construction industry,” said Jeff Aboussie, the Secretary-Treasurer of the St. Louis Building and Construction Trades Council. “And the BUD program is specifically crafted to provide historically neglected communities of St. Louis residents the opportunity to gain access to skilled craft career training that will literally transform their lives and place them on the ladder to the middle class.”


Barbara Huelsing, one of the recent graduates, told St. Louis Public Radio she was making about as much money as a casino worker as she will be in the building trades, but without health benefits or the pride she feels not that she’s been accepted into the apprenticeship program with Insulators Local 1.

“It gives me a career I can be proud of,” she said. “I’m not necessarily so proud of taking money from people. I feel better being a contributor to the community.”


“Good jobs support communities, reduce crime and support families,” St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay said. “The more we can do to support our local residents and provide opportunities, the more the whole region grows.”

St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger said the construction jobs of the graduates will sow economic growth. “They are the seeds of success for disenfranchise communities,” he said.


Across America, North America’s Building Trades’ Unions and their signatory contractors invest over $1 billion annually to fund and operate over 1,600 joint labor-contractor training centers across America. When wages and benefits paid to apprentices are included, this investment soars to over $10 billion per year.

“In the greater St. Louis metropolitan region,” said Aboussie, “our unions invest roughly $40 million every year in quality apprenticeship education and training.”

Among construction apprentices nationally, according to the US Department of Labor, 74 percent are trained in the unionized construction sector.

BUD is a joint effort of the St. Louis Building & Construction Trades Council, Carpenters District Council, Laborers International Union of North America (LiUNA) Construction Craft Laborers, Bricklayers Local 1, Iron Workers Local 396, Operating Engineers Local 513, IBEW Local 1 electrical workers and Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 562 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. – that brings labor, management, community groups, faith organizations and local government together to ensure all citizens have equal opportunity in the construction trades.

John Gaal of the Carpenter’s District Council of Greater St. Louis said the BUD program is being looked at by the White House and by other cities as a possible model to emulate.


Most of the funding for the first two sessions of BUD came from a federal grant earmarked for the long-term unemployed.

The Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) funded 10 of the 11 people who graduated last week.

Gaal is hopeful the program’s successes will encourage more private funding.

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