Carlos Cornejo, Local 45, is a foreman with Curtis Partitions. Carlos always knew he wanted to become a union carpenter and found his path by joining the Marines and working through Helmets to Hardhats. Carlos’ passion for humanitarian work and military service have now opened doors for him to use his carpentry skills doing charitable work in Hawaii and abroad. We caught up with Carlos to discuss his journey and how the union paved the way for him to follow his dreams!
How did you get into the union and Helmets 2 Hardhats?
I knew I wasn’t going to college, so I joined the Marine Reserves. We had a job fair at our site and Helmets to Hardhats came to our unit. I was 19 years old and knew I wanted to become a carpenter but didn’t know how. They were able to get me in and I joined the union the next month.
How did you know you wanted to become a carpenter?
My father was a carpenter in the union, Local 45, and he was always good with his hands. He was always doing side work and he pretty much led me to become a carpenter.
What was it like volunteering in Puerto Rico?
The District Council was supporting a trip to Puerto Rico for carpenters to rebuild after Hurricane Maria, so I signed up to go. I was a third-year apprentice at the time. There were two sites and only two carpenters. Everyone else was either a plumber, electrician, or mechanic. So, the other carpenter and I split up between the two sites. I went to the mountains and the other stayed on the main site in San Juan. I was the only Spanish speaker as well, so they pretty much relied on me to translate and dictate everything that was happening on the job. It was a really great experience. I had a good group of guys who were older, so they were able to take orders well and execute what was planned for the day. We got a lot of work done with just a small group of just six guys. We were able to put up the walls and the roof within a day for a house. It was a big success.
Tell us about how you were recruited for the Air Force’s humanitarian project.
The mission is a humanitarian project in Hawaii led by the Air Force. We’ll be building churches, schools, and the like in the area. It’s a joint taskforce working with other military branches. They reached out to the Marines looking for certified carpenters and it went through our chain of command until it finally trickled down to my unit. I submitted my certifications and said I’d done humanitarian work before in Puerto Rico. They took me right away. I’m being brought on as a project manager. My current job as a foreman for Curtis is running lots of work, so they knew this would be a great position for me. I’ll oversee multiple groups of different branches coming in, cycling through two weeks at a time and making sure the job is being done on time and built correctly.
How has the union change your life?
I feel like I wouldn’t have all these opportunities. The military opened the door to become a union member and the union really helped me and gave me the knowledge and the skills. Now I own a home and I’m only 25 years old. I’m blessed.
What are your plans for after this mission?
If this works out well, the Air Force asked what my availability is to continue other missions in other parts of the world. So, my plans are to continue serving in the reserves and when I get home, continue working at Curtis.
Do you have any advice for other members or apprentices?
The union is a great opportunity. Carpentry is a skill you can take anywhere, so if you have the right head on your shoulders, you can go anywhere with this – as far as you want. It’s really what you make of it and time flies by. I’ve already been in the Marines for eight years and I’ve been in the union for six. It’s been a good time.