Infrastructure money will bolster carpentry work for women, ex-cons – San Bernardino Sun

A Southern California-based union that trains women and others who were formerly incarcerated to become union carpenters is expecting an influx of work through the nation’s recently passed infrastructure bill.

Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Norwalk, who recently toured the Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters‘ training center in Whittier, predicts good things for the facility. The council represents more than 58,000 members in Southern California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, New Mexico and Colorado.

“The recently passed Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will invest in job training centers and apprenticeship programs like the ones we saw here today,” Sanchez said. “That means good-paying jobs for the next generation of Californians.”

$1.2 trillion for projects

Signed into law by President Joe Biden on Nov 15, the bill provides $1.2 trillion in federal investment for roads, bridges, passenger rails, drinking water and waste-water systems. It will also expand high-speed internet and climate-related infrastructure.

“For us, the infrastructure money is more about jobs and good benefits for our members,” said Louis Ontiveros. He’s executive director of the Southwest Carpenters Training Fund, which fund handles the union’s training and apprenticeship programs.

Many union contractors earn $80,000 to $90,000 a year, Ontiveros said, and those who put in significant overtime can make more than $100,000.

The Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters represents more than 58,000 members in Southern California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, New Mexico and Colorado. (Photo courtesy of the Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters)

BOOTS program

Southwest Regional’s four-week BOOTS (Bridging Opportunities with Tradeswoman Skills) program is aimed at bringing women into the industry.

The program serves as an introduction to carpentry, focusing on safety, math, framing, concrete-form building and other aspects of the trade. Women who complete the program receive a basic set of tools and personal protective equipment once they’re hired by a union contractor.

Ontiveros said some BOOTS classes have as many as 20 women students, while others have just four or five.

“Women account for about 5% of the people we train,” he said.

Chanel Waits, who took the BOOTS classes in 2017, was one of them.

“When I was first looking into this I thought we’d be wearing pink hardhats and it would all be a joke,” she said. “But they make me feel comfortable … it was like a safe place.”

Waits has since worked her way up the ladder to earn journeyman status at a pay rate of more than $44 an hour.

“These days I’m doing finish work,” the 26-year-old Anaheim resident said. “That includes most of the obvious things you see when you walk into a buliding, like the panels on the wall, the baseboards and the crown molding. I love doing this because it has an artistic aspect to it.”

Brothers’ Keeper classes

The Brothers’ Keeper Pre-Apprenticeship classes target disadvantaged residents and others who were formerly incarcerated. The classes last three weeks, covering everything from math skills and material and tool recognition to an introduction to metal-stud framing and concrete formwork. Participants also receive an OSHA safety certification.

The program provides hands-on construction training, safe workplace procedures and mock interviews to help students gain confidence in their job-seeking abilities.

Brandon Reyes, 29, of Los Angeles completed the Brothers’ Keeper classes a year ago and is now doing layout work for construction projects.

“I love this work,” he said. “I come in with my journeymen and we determine where everything needs to go — what we need going from this point to that point — before they start building. I started out working at the new Rams stadium, but I was more recently doing work on a helicopter hanger at the Naval base in Point Magu.”

The Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters’ training center in Whittier offers classes to help students become union carpenters. Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Norwalk, who recently toured the facility, is seen here at the right. (Photo courtesy of outhwest Regional Council of Carpenters)

Reyes, who earns $28 an hour, said the Brothers’ Keeper classes gave him a solid grounding to address the work he’s doing.

“It really prepared me so I wasn’t sitting there like a deer in the headlights,” he said. “I didn’t have to waste time asking a lot of questions.”

He also noted a fringe benefit.

“I’ve lost about 80 pounds,” Reyes said. “It’s a workout because you’re just constantly moving — you’re always going to get materials or climbing up on something.”

Ontiveros said many of the students who take the Brothers’ Keeper classes have previously been in jail.

“We all make mistakes,” he said. “Some are more egregious than others, but at Southwest, we’re all about second and third chances, and our contractors are the same way. They just want hard workers who take things seriously.”

The Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters is funded primarily through contractors who pay into the union’s fund. It receives additional money for its training programs from a variety of community colleges that allow the students to earn college credits. The schools include Rio Hondo Community College in Whittier, Riverside Community College, Rancho Santiago Community College in Santa Ana, Bakersfield College and Palomar College in San Diego.

Those interested in the BOOTS or Brothers’ Keeper Pre-Apprenticeship classes can learn more at Enter the program names in the search bar for more information.

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