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Outstanding Apprentice Patrick Graham: Life is Sweet When You’re a Local 197 Ironworker

Editor’s Note: LaborPress is proud to present the 2022 Outstanding Apprentice of the Year Awards for Long Island and New York City on Thursday, June 16, hosted by Teamsters Local 282 in Lake Success, NY. Today, we continue our ongoing series leading up to this year’s gala event introducing each of those fascinating and inspiring award-winners to the wider labor movement.

New York, NY – Patrick Graham is 31-year-old former National Guardsman living in Ewing, New Jersey who came to Ironworkers Local 197 from Helmets to Hardhats, the national non-profit organization that connects transitioning service members to opportunities in the construction industry.

Ironworkers Local 197 Apprentice Patrick Graham working on Hunter’s Point Tower in 2020.

Graham already had a union job for about six or seven years at a gasoline pipeline terminal working as a dock operator before learning about the Helmets to Hardhats program.

“It was hard work,” the recently married Graham says. “I think where I’m at now is more rewarding. I think it was a good decision to change career paths.”

He has just a couple of months remaining before completing the Ironworkers’ three-year apprenticeship program. Originally from Freehold, NJ, Graham admits he was a real greenhorn upon entering the unionized Building Trades, but says he’s acquired an immense amount of knowledge and skills since then.

“Oh my God, so many skills,” he says. “Basically, when I first started, I didn’t really know anything about our trade. I had to learn everything pretty much from the ground up. Rigging…lots of things to do with cranes…putting cranes together and using rigging. Precast panels are sort of the bread and butter of what we do; that’s the specialty of our local. Almost done learning how to weld, learning how to use different tools, and all the little ins and outs and tricks that come with setting the panels. I learn something new every day. And I hope I continue to.”

Graham says he especially likes a job that constantly keeps him on his toes – both physically and mentally.

“Obviously, the physical aspect of climbing, carrying, working on the edge of buildings is pretty exciting — and the mental aspect of it —having to take measurements and figure out what the next several steps are going to be ahead of when I have to be there. At the end of the job, I can look at the New York City skyline and point at different buildings and say, yeah, I helped put that one up. I worked on that one. It’s a really great sense of pride to be able to look at the finished product and think, I’m involved with that.”

Graham is a person who simply loves being a trade unionist. “I love the sense of camaraderie that we have,” he says. “It’s basically like joining a second family. I feel like for the most part, everybody looks out for one another, and keeps each other’s best interests [at heart]. Developing good friendships; it’s a great group of people.”

Outside of work, Graham enjoys camping, hiking, kayaking, and road trips — particularly to national parks.

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