ALBANY — The regional carpenters union on Monday showed off its expanded and upgraded training center/headquarters.
The 75,000-square-foot conversion of two warehouses was undertaken at a cost of more than $5 million by the Northeast/New England Regional Council of Carpenters.
Since the influence and scope of organized labor peaked in the mid-20th century in the United States, the number of American workers represented by unions has declined significantly. New York state has the largest union presence in the nation, state Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon told a crowd at Monday's event, but its workforce is still only 25 percent unionized.
Meanwhile, skilled construction trades are often short of workers.
The Albany training center, and others like it operated by the regional council, are intended to address both issues: Get more workers trained in skilled labor and increase the union's ranks.
The two buildings sit off Corporate Circle near Route 155. The training center is joined by a new pedestrian bridge to the headquarters of Local 291, which covers 14 counties in northeastern New York, from Catskill to the Canadian border.
The training center was funded with members’ dues. It will serve both experienced carpenters who want to add new skills and apprentices just starting their careers. About 900 apprentice carpenters already work in the state, and the council is recruiting more, with a focus on women, as it tries to diversify its ranks through its Sisters in the Brotherhood initiative.
Jim Hayes, apprenticeship director for New York, said the council’s apprentice profile has gone from 4 percent to 7 percent female in just a few years. The next goal is 10 percent.
A cluster of women rotated through the stations of the training center Monday on their first day of pre-apprenticeship training, which will give them important foundations in math, safety and other fundamentals needed to step onto a construction site.
Apprentices are actually in the minority at the training center most days: Full-fledged journeymen outnumber apprentices 3-to-1, Hayes said.
They’re picking up or polishing skills such as welding and building concrete forms, and being reminded about dealing with safety hazards such as silica and asbestos.
“Skill classes make you money; safety classes help you return home safely,” Hayes said.
As for the long-running societal shift in interest among young adults away from skilled labor to college education, Hayes said the union is working with educators at the high school level to recruit members, designing educational materials that provide for a classroom-to-career transition.
Along with women and high school-level vocational students, the union is recruiting veterans (Helmets to Hardhats), disadvantaged young adults and unemployed people low-income backgrounds.
Those who rate highest on objective assessments become union members — membership depends on what you know, not who you know, Hayes added.
The hourly wage for a Local 291 journeyman carpenter in the Capital Region is $30.93 and will increase to $32.03 on July 1, plus benefits at $20.85 an hour. Apprentices start at 50 percent of journeyman wages and rise to 80 percent in their fifth and final year.