March 11, 2017
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY - From ironworkers to actors, New York City public high school kids got a chance this week, to meet with union members doing jobs that are not only challenging, but pay the bills — and then some.
Representatives from 26 union trades met with freshmen and sophomore students at an inaugural College And Careers fair held inside UFT headquarters on Broadway Thursday morning.
“Being in a union career is generally going to lead to better income, better working conditions, and better supports and benefits for your family,” UFT Vice-President Janella Hinds told the mostly 14- and 15-year-old kids.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the median weekly salary for union members working full-time in 2016, was $1,004. That’s opposed to nonunion members who worked the same hours, but for only $802.
The union advantage also applies to younger people in the affected age bracket of 16- to 24-year-olds. And union membership also helps close the persistent gender and ethnic pay gap, too.
“We know that there is a gap between the amount men make and the amount women make,” Hinds continued. “But if you’re in a union — all of that is equalized.”
This week’s College and Career Fair was a joint partnership between the United Federation of Teachers and the New York City Central Labor Council.
Existing outreach programs, including the Edward J. Malloy Initiative for Construction Skills and Non-Traditional Employment for Women [NEW] already work to develop a new pipeline into New York’s many diverse trades. The UFT and NYCCLC fair expanded on those efforts.
“It’s what we always look for,” said Daniel Jacobson, assistant director of training for the NYC District Council of Carpenters. “We have a large group of baby boomers that are retiring out of this union. Our average age of an apprentice is 28-years-old. If we can get the kids that are coming out of high school, they’re in there for a longer run. They can become foremen, they can have career advancement. Yeah, it’s a big thing for us seeing the younger kids.”
Ironworkers Local 40 representative Bryan Brady expressed a special kinship with the diverse group of school kids contemplating college and the trades.
“I was them,” Brady said. “I got started out of high school. I know what it feels like. To see them at a job fair, and later down the road if they do get into the [training] school, is very rewarding.”
Unlike college, students who decide they want a career in the union trades, earn while they learn. But opportunities to enter some apprenticeship programs, including the Ironworkers and Carpenters, are largely dictated by market demands, and there are always more applicants than available slots.
“I don’t even think our students recognize that the people who educate them every day are members of a union,” Hinds said. “And there’s some work to do in educating them so that they understand that collective bargaining and collective voice is where there is power and there is strength.”
UFT President Michael Mulgrew started his Labor career in the carpenters union before shifting gears while still “swinging a hammer” and earning his graduate degree in education.
Deciding if and when to go to college is a touch decision to make, the UFT leader warned the kids.
“When you look in the mirror, don’t play yourself,” Mulgrew said. “You have to be serious about the decisions you’re going to make.”
Many students contemplating college or a career in the union trades were impressed when representatives told them personal stories of owning homes before the age of 30, and not having to pay off a mountain of student loan debt.
According to a recently-released report from the Economic Policy Institute, between 2006 and 2015, union membership translated to 25.2 percent and 38-percent hourly wage advantages for Black and Hispanic workers in NYC respectively,
“We’re at the earliest stages of any pipeline - but we would really like students all over this city to have the opportunity to get into careers in the Building Trades, education, NYPD, the public sector — to make this city continue to be the union powerhouse that it is,” Hinds said.