It was an unseasonably cold weekend in April of 2018 when I waited in line for an application to enter the New York City District Council of Carpenters, the union representing carpentry workers. Before that day, I worked in food service and the most complex thing I’d built was Ikea furniture. I had always been good with my hands though, so I thought I would give something new a shot. I never could have expected just how many ways my life would change for the better thanks to union carpenters and contractors.
Good jobs are the backbone of an affordable city and a thriving working class. As a lifelong New Yorker, born and raised in the Bronx, I am comforted to know that the wages I earn from my work with union contractors will allow me to remain in the city I am helping to construct.
Unfortunately, that’s not always true for the friends I know who have worked in non-union construction jobs. Without the representation of a union, they did not make a living wage or benefits. Quality is second to productivity on non-union construction sites, and both are put above safety.
The opposite is true on union job sites. Working in construction has inherent risks built in, so I appreciate the lengths that union carpenters and contractors take to prioritize safety – from mandatory training for all members to having trained shop stewards on job site. As a union worker, I also know that I will receive a good wage for 100 percent of the time I work. My hours are very reasonable, so I get to spend time doing things I love and enjoying quality time with my family. I feel at ease knowing that I’ll be set with a pension and an annuity when I retire. I’ve built financial stability and great healthcare for myself and my family, and I am proud that I will have something to pass along to my children when they grow up.
I am grateful to have a career that allows me to build a life for my family in a city that is becoming increasingly unaffordable. Last year, real wages in New York City were down 9.1% year-over-year, while rents were up 13.4%. That means rent growth outpaced wage growth by 23%, the widest that gap has been since the 2008 financial crash. Now more than ever, New Yorkers need more good union jobs. Union carpenters and contractors are hard at work creating good-paying jobs to make New York more affordable for all.
Those who construct our skyline deserve to be able to live in its buildings. Union carpenters and contractors are committed to that vision and to keeping New York City affordable for working people. Building more housing is one part of the equation to make New York more affordable, but another important part is paying workers enough to be able to live in that housing. Union carpenters and contractors are working hard to make both happen.
As I continue my journey in unionized construction, I want to pay it forward to the people who will come after me. Union carpenters and contractors are a diverse brotherhood and sisterhood creating stable futures for New Yorkers – it’s a place that I would encourage anyone who’s looking for a good career to join. I am proud to be part of a community of union carpenters and contractors that are building a stronger, more affordable New York City for working people.