Carpenters organize a diverse workforce in Tennessee

Union organizing is picking up, with more diverse populations becoming members of the building trades. Even in So-Called “Right to Work” states, unions are finding some organizing success.

United Brotherhood of Carpenters Local 74 Business Representative Rodney Graham discussed his Local’s organizing progress on the America’s Work Force Union Podcast. He also discussed immigration reform and other issues.

Carpenters Local 74

Graham provided a background on the history of Carpenters Local 74. He said the membership is at 700 strong and growing. During the pandemic, the Local managed to organize more than 100 new members. This diverse Local continues to expand as work opportunities are plentiful.

The Local 74 registered apprenticeship program also shares a diverse makeup. Roughly 25 percent of the 84 apprentices are women. This is far ahead of the national percentage of women in the carpentry trade.

Work in their Chattanooga, Tenn. jurisdiction did not skip a beat during the pandemic. The area is packed with work at local nuclear plants and a variety of new construction projects. However, supply chain issues are becoming a problem on certain jobs.

Operating in a So-Called “Right to Work” state

For decades, Tennessee has been a So-Called “Right to Work” state. However, union members throughout Tennessee are not afraid to stand together. Graham said members of Local 74 stood with auto workers as they fought for representation. Ultimately, the effort came up short, but the solidarity remained.

He said most of the politicians in the state do not understand the inner workings of the building trades. Graham explained how one politician had no idea that registered building trades apprenticeship programs do not receive federal funding. From an organized labor perspective, the lack of a union construction industry education is a major problem among elected officials in Tennessee.

Immigration reform

Many immigrants work in the construction industry in Tennessee. Graham said non-union contractors, who often compete against building trades signatory contractors, use immigrants as a source of cheap and easily exploited labor.

It is difficult to organize these workers, as many are in the U.S illegally or are fearful of communicating with the union. Graham said it would be great to be able to organize these workers, as work is plentiful and union membership will lead to improved wages and better benefits for their families.


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