March 14, 2014
By Joe Maniscalco
Brooklyn, NY – Picking your way through the powerful personalities that inhabit this city can be as delicate as maneuvering a 230-foot-tall crane amidst a cluster of densely-packed skyscrapers. Fortunately, Allen S. Wright, IUOE Local 14’s new political director, is trained to do both.
“I graduated from college and the apprentice program at the same time,” the 41-year-old Brooklyn College Psychology major says. “But I chose to be a tradesman. It wasn’t a fallback – it was a choice.”
After nearly 20 years on the job, that very conscious decision earned Wright a spot on “the most high profile construction job in the world” – working as the World Trade Center Hub Project’s master mechanic. Wright held the vital position for about five years. In December, he began a brand new phase of his career when he was appointed to the post of political director for International Union of Operating Engineers Local 14.
“I’m what unions represent,” Wright says. “I’m an inner city kid from Brooklyn. Being part of this organization has given me a gateway into the middle class and it’s respectable. I get paid for the work that I do – and I understand the importance of that.”
Both of Wright’s parents were union members who instilled those blue collar values in their son. Mom Betty was a proud member of the United Federation of Teachers, while dad Sam worked as a member of District Council of Carpenters Local 1536. Wright’s sister Samantha is currently training director for 1199 SEIU.
As Local IUOE Local 14’s new political director, convincing members of the New York City Council that the Bloomberg administration’s scheme to change the licensing rules for crane operators is simply a bad idea and should be scrapped, is high on Wright’s agenda.
“There’s no place that can replicate working in New York City,” Wright explains. “You need someone who was trained within the city limits to really grasp that. What we do is a very dangerous job. It’s unforgiving. A mistake could be fatal. It’s imperative that if you’re going to work here, you’re trained here.”
At one time, Wright also served as lead instructor of IUOE Local 14’s Training Program. So, for him, reaching out to other neighborhood kids about the many opportunities that organized labor promises, is also a big part of his new job.
“It’s all about exposure,” Wright says. “I was lucky enough to have someone who was in the construction trade, so, I knew about it. But there are a lot of people out there that may not be interested because they have no idea about what they could aspire to be.”
Wright says that he enjoys meeting young people and talking about his career in organized labor, and the kind of work that he’s done. It’s a special message that he believes has the power to resonate with others.
“I’m from the apprentice program,” Wright continues. “I’m represent the exact people that need to be reached. I’m from there. It’s not like I’m some guy from Iowa trying sell them some ‘yes you can speech’ – I’m living proof.”
Although his college education and “background in human nature” is serving him well in his new position as IUOE Local 14 political director, Wright acknowledges that the same path might not be right for someone else – but that fact alone should not preclude them from prospering like he has.
“I had an opportunity to go to college, but not everyone’s going to do that,” Wright says. “But that doesn’t mean that they should be left behind, or that their life doesn’t have the same value as someone who decides to go to school. They should be afforded the same opportunities – and organized labor offers those opportunities.”
In the IUOE Local 14 political director’s estimation, the erosion of the middle class directly correlates to the decline in union membership. The remedy, he says, is clear.
“The middle class is suffering,” Wright concludes. “If we truly want to rebuild the economy, then the best way to do it is through organized labor.”