New York, NY –  “One of my goals is to get everybody together; a lot of people think the unions are hard to get into,” Ironworkers Local 197 Apprentice Erick Garay tells LaboPress. “But I want people to realize — I’m Hispanic. I’m 36-years-old, and I made it — you can, too.”

Erick Garay at his office.

The Bronx father of three — one of LaborPress’ Outstanding Apprentices of the Year recently honored at the District Council of Carpenters HQ at 395 Hudson Street, is part of a group of minority workers that constitute roughly 43-percent of all those currently participating in apprenticeship programs across the state. Unions now account for 36-percent of the 752 training programs operating statewide, the rest are non-union.

“It’s not just for some people — it could be for a lot of people, Garay says. “We’re fighting for people to join us. To be part of us, because if you’re part of us, nobody’s going to be able to stop us.”

Leah Rambo, Sheet Metal Workers Local 28 Training Director, bought a house during the final year of her Union Apprenticeship — something almost unheard of at the time for a 24-year-old woman of color without a college degree. 

“I owe it to my Union training,” Rambo says. “The training a labor union provides extends further than just getting the job done. We are focused on building and reinvesting in the same communities we have served for over 100 years. Safety is our priority; we consistently have fewer accidents on the job, dispose of materials according to the latest regulations, and protect pedestrians from falling debris. Our members are as diverse as the city itself. The wages and benefits we receive help to close racial, ethnic and gender wage gaps.”

I owe it to my Union training, Rambo says. The training a labor union provides extends further than just getting the job done. We are focused on building and reinvesting in the same communities we have served for over 100 years.

LaborPress honoree and Local 740 Millwright & Machinery Erectors Apprentice Joseph Daly, 35, just bought his first house earlier this year, and is expecting his second child in September. 

“Everything just fell in line at the right time,” Daly tells LaborPress. “I think it would have happened much further down the road if it weren’t for the Union. It’s definitely given me the opportunity to work with my hands and be able to support my family.”

The Building & Construction Trades alone offer 490 Apprentice programs across the state — a good 40-percent of them are union, the remainder are non-union.

“Unions reflect the middle class and training reflects the union,” IUOE Local 94 Training Director Howard Styles says. “Union training is the only training of its kind in this city. Union = Training = skilled labor = higher income = more middle-class workers = better city economy. Union training is microcosm of society, where good education is directly related to good employment.”

Like many in his family before him, Daly says he wanted a career that allowed him to create and build with his hands. But unlike them, he wanted to have a more secure life with greater opportunities. 

“My grandfather used to do construction with my uncle, so I was raised around construction and watching them struggle and everything doing it privately…I always wanted to be able to do it better,” the Long Island resident says. “I’d like to climb the ladder as high as possible.”

Styles points out that Union apprenticeship training programs provide the vocational training high schools lack, along with the targeted training that colleges simply cannot provide without crippling tuition fees.

Local 94 Training Program Director Howard Styles.
IUOE Local 94 Training Director Howard Styles.

“As I often tell my students, no one can ever take away your education or your skills,” Styles says. “Education and skills are transportable; they go with you wherever you go. Union training is the only training targeted to provide the employer with the workforce that is specific to whatever the necessity may be. We also train our members to be assets in the workplace by being efficient, cost savers and safe workers. We are able to train an entry-level member and provide the tools and the environment to successfully achieve the skills and certifications necessary to be an asset for the employer.”

During their 4-year apprenticeships, Apprentices at the New York City District Council of Carpenters Training Center receive 5,200 classroom hours of instruction, along with related field training.

“Along with learning a skill that can never been taken away from them — and Safety Training that ensures they go home to their families every night — they also learn ‘soft skills,’ such as money management, the History of the Union, what annuities are…and even though they are just beginning their career, they are made aware of the fact that being a Union member will ensure they will be able to retire with dignity when the time comes,” Training Director Walter Warzecha says. “The public benefits because Union jobs are safer, come in on time and on budget.”

All told, there are now some 17,256 Apprentices participating in training programs throughout the state.  

“Our income, which is regulated by our Collective Bargaining Agreement, is also reported and taxed,” Rambo adds. “This ensures that we are contributing our fair share to the programs that our City and State agencies provide for us all. There is a sincere sense of responsibility that is required when you’re building the best city in the world — NYC labor unions are proud to be of service.”

After driving a delivery truck for 13 years as a non-union driver, Garay likes to engage his non-union brothers and sisters to think Union whenever he gets the chance. 

“I tell them, ‘You guys are going to get the benefits — the medical, the pension — all that stuff, you’re going to get too.’ You guys have got to realize that united you’re stronger than only one person. That’s what people don’t see. If it weren’t for unions, you guys wouldn’t have a 9-to-5 job, a 40-hour-week job. Unions fought for all those rights. And we’re still fighting for the rights of other people. Corporate America, the rich, they want to make themselves richer — so they’ll blind everybody to the truth.”


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