Amsterdam News | Rashad Merchant-Bey | November 2, 2023
Hailing from Harlem and currently residing in the Bronx, my journey to union carpentry in the city I call home has been the most fulfilling and transformative experience of my life. With reliable work, good pay, and quality benefits, union carpenters and contractors provide New Yorkers like me and my family with the means to live comfortably in a city where it is increasingly difficult to do so.
The carpenters union runs in my blood. My father, a shop steward for Local 157, taught me that hard work and skill in union carpentry can create stable livelihoods for families like ours. Growing up, my dad would take me to union carpenter and contractor Labor Day parades, picnics, and other community events where attendees did not treat each other like traditional colleagues, instead, they provided each other support like a true family – a sister and brotherhood. These experiences from my childhood provided me a glimpse of what my future could look like if I chose the path of pursuing a union job.
I knew that a traditional desk job would not fulfill me. A desire to work with my hands led me to the United States Marine Corps where I served for four years and learned that the camaraderie I felt in the military was something I valued deeply. When it was time to think of my next career step, my mind immediately went to union carpentry and following in my father’s footsteps. I entered the union through the Helmets to Hardhats pre-apprenticeship program, designed to help veterans transition into careers in construction. Within months of leaving the military, I was a union apprentice earning a paycheck with benefits and learning my trade, thanks to the program’s support.
Mentorship and community are fundamental principles of union carpenters and contractors. I’ve had incredible mentors, including journeymen, foremen, and older apprentices, who have generously shared their knowledge and experiences with me. The sense of camaraderie and the willingness of fellow members to help each other is truly inspiring. Diversity is another area where the union excels. Regardless of age, gender, or race, everyone is treated as a carpenter, judged solely by their work ethic, skills on their tools, and willingness to be a part of this thing bigger than just themselves. This inclusivity fosters a supportive community where everyone has an equal opportunity to thrive.
As the sole income earner for my wife and two children, there is nothing I value more than being able to provide for my family. Even though New York City is currently experiencing an affordability crisis, working with union carpenters and contractors allows me to afford a 3-bedroom apartment in the Bronx and a new car – a testament to the great pay and benefits I receive from union carpenters and contractors. I’m proud to say I work every day in the city where I reside and see the benefits every night with my family after work. Union carpenters and contractors ensure that people like me who build New York City from the ground up can afford to live where we work.
The union offers a path to a rewarding and fulfilling career where hard work and dedication are met with success, support, and stability. Looking ahead, I want to become the experienced carpenter that new members seek for guidance and support. And ultimately, my dream is to become a shop steward, just like my father. Union carpenters and contractors have provided generations of good-paying jobs that have allowed my family and many more to call New York City home. Union jobs provide the necessary support, benefits, and stability we need to tackle New York City’s affordability crisis, since the more stable, good-paying jobs there are in New York City, the more affordable the city will become for all.