Building Trades

Hundreds Camp Out For Days In Hopes Of A Union Job

August 20, 2013
By Joe Maniscalco

Charles and Stephanie Degenhardt

Charles and Stephanie Degenhardt.

New York, NY – Over a 1,000 applicants formed an exhausted but determined line snaking around the NYC District Council of Carpenters Labor Technical College at 395 Hudson Street on Monday morning – many had been there for days in hopes of finally obtaining a better standard of living through union membership. (Watch Video)

“I got here yesterday at about approximately four or five o’clock,” 25-year-old Queens catering worker Henry Morales told LaborPress. “There are people that have been here since Thursday. I’m in a good spot in the 300s. So, I’m officially getting a lottery ticket. It’s been tough.”

The NYC District Council of Carpenters Labor Technical College opens its highly-respected apprenticeship program to new applicants about once every two years. This year, the union has 750 spots available across its carpenter, dock builder and floor coverer programs. 

Pennsylvania resident Gina Giuliano arrived on Hudson Street last Wednesday, intent on locking up a shot at becoming one of only 150 applicants who will have an opportunity to go on to train as a dock builder. 

“It’s been rough, but we’re hanging in there for better employment and better benefits,” the 43-year-old laborer and landscaper said. “I’m willing to learn and bust my butt for the opportunity. My brother came and stayed with me the whole five days. I would have done it myself, but my brother promised my husband that he would stay with me.”

Last week, Stephanie and Charles Degenhardt had to leave their six-month-old daughter Charleighrae with family back home on Staten Island, but were among the first in line for a shot at the lottery.

“I got here a day before [my wife] to hold down the spot because we couldn’t find a sitter for the baby,” Charles said. “But it’s been a great experience.”

The apprenticeship program runs for four years and new trainees never have to spend a dime on their studies. 

“So, it’s not as if the individuals coming into the apprentice program need to take out school loans,” said Labor Technical College Director Elly Spicer. “The industry is funded by the industry. It’s one of the unique aspects of the unionized construction industry in New York City.”   

Gina Giuliano

Gina Giuliano.

Over time, as the unionized construction industry requires more workers, Labor Technical College officials will pull names out of the lottery box, and the lucky winners who waited on line for so long, will get their chance to directly apply for the apprenticeship program.

According to the NYC District Council of Carpenters, almost half of this year’s applicants are people of color and about 16 percent are women.

“I want it badly,” 39-year-old Brooklynite Nicholas Foreman said. “And I also want this badly for my son. This way, I know that he can have a secure life.”

Spicer spent part of her weekend visiting with the men and women camped out on the sidewalk and talked to them about their  aspirations for union employment. 

“The non-union construction industry has pushed so hard down on wages – forget benefits, there are none,” Spicer said. “Many of the people that I’ve spoken to have some carpentry experience, have maybe worked in the non-union sector, but they can’t live. They can’t survive on the paltry wages and benefits being offered by the non-union sector. So, the opportunity to become a highly trained and skilled union carpenter is one that you’re not going to pass up.”

Long Island resident Richard Hoffman is just 19-years-old, but after working a factory job for the last two years, the Copaigue teen didn’t have think too hard about venturing into Manhattan when a friend suggested they try for a spot in the apprentice lottery. 

“It’s been crazy,” Hoffman said. “But I’m hoping to get in, and get a job.”

Nicholas Foreman

Nicholas Foreman

For Spicer, the impetus behind the hundreds who stood outside for days on Hudson Street  hoping for a chance at becoming carpentry apprentices, is as easy to understand as it is telling.

“They all want to better their lives,” Spcier said. “They want a shot to have decent wages and benefits. And if that isn’t telling about what’s happened to this city and the polarization between the wealthy and the workers…nothing else is going to tell you that more than folks standing in this line, looking for a shot to get a job that has [good] wages, benefits and a career.”

After capping off their weeklong wait and successfully securing their spot in the lottery, a relieved Stephanie and Charlie Degenhardt said they felt the weight of the world roll off their shoulders.  

“I want to show [my daughter] that in life, you have to have determination and dedication to get what you want,” Stephanie said. 

August 19, 2013

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