by Brett Hinsley, Business Manager, Cement Masons LU 555, Oregon and SW Washington
My grandmother lived in Koosherem Utah during the depression. The only things that grow there are rattlesnakes and potatoes. She used to tell us that there wasn’t a way to cook potatoes known to man that she has not tried. She was adept at making a living out of nothing. She never wasted food, she always repaired things instead of buying new and she cleaned chicken coops for .25 cents an hour as a young girl. She taught us how to live lean.
My grandfather worked as union Teamster hauling graders, dozers and other large equipment for LA Young Construction Company all over the Southwest. LA Young was the only union construction company in a 300 mile radius. He worked on dams, roads, bridges and military facilities. He did this for over 30 years. We didn’t see much of him because of the time that he was on the road. He taught us about hard work and sacrifice.
I come from 4 generations of construction workers. I grew up on the jobsite. I would pack block and mortar for my dad, I would strip basement forms, and I would stay in the hotel room when he was working out of town and wait for him until the end of the day. I knew from a very young age what I wanted to do. I also knew what I was asking for. I knew that Christmas could be lean and that summer could be fat. I knew that there could be long lay offs and short intense busy summers. I learned that when everyone is working and you are living high on the hog you do not buy a new truck. You don’t live paycheck to paycheck. You sharpen your skills, and work hard because when work slows down the competition gets tougher.
At our union meeting last night as I scanned the audience I was struck by how many new faces I saw. Our membership is changing, over a third of those at the meeting were apprentices. We have 70 apprentices and about 50 of them are 55% first term apprentices. For many of them starting this apprenticeship is their first experience with construction. They do not understand the lifestyle. They may not be preparing for the lay off. Many times their first lay off freaks them out enough that they will not continue and they go back to something more familiar and less intimidating. They don’t realize that if they manage their wages they can make just as much in 6 months that they did in 12 months with their previous employer.
If you remember the panic and uncertainty of your first time getting a lay off check, take the initiative and pull that apprentice aside and share some of the lessons that you have learned in the trade. Let them know that the fat doesn’t last forever and that the lean times don’t either.