John Meehan is a 24-year member, a well-known shop steward, and even an aspiring photographer. He’s about to retire and confesses he owes all he has to the union. Read about his experience and how he intends to spend his retirement here:
Tell us about your career in the union.
I joined the union in 1998 when my wife had just given birth to our son. We moved to the United States from Ireland, and I decided to join the Carpenters Union. That was a busy year. I remember building Louis Vuitton down in SOHO and I was working seven days a week. Great money but in 2008 the downturn came. I found myself out of work and I didn’t know anyone because I had only worked for two companies my whole time in the union. Being out of work was hard because everyone that I knew from the two companies was out of work like me. I couldn’t just sit around and do nothing, so I enrolled in the courses to become a shop steward. The classes took a few years to finish and then work started to pick up again, thankfully.
Can you talk about your time as a shop steward?
At first it was hard. When I started as a steward, a lot of members on the project just weren’t nice to me. I had my responsibilities to the union as a steward to make sure every union rule was followed, but I did my job as a carpenter on top of that, of course. Once I proved to the members on the job that I worked hard like them, the members treated me fine. Most even respected me. I would work on a project till it was complete. Then the company would ask me to stay for another project, but I usually said no. It is important to diversify. As soon as the job finished, I moved on to another job with another company. The more members I knew, the better.
Did you enjoy being a shop steward?
I really did. The years started to fly by when I became a steward. It’s now 24 years later and 1,000 plus projects and I’m able to retire. One of the best things about being a steward was I had the ability to take off and travel. See, I was adopted in Ireland and then a few years ago I found my family. They still lived in Ireland! My birth mother had passed, but I still have ten siblings who are alive. When this happened, I dropped everything. I was going to Ireland multiple times a year to visit my family. A temporary steward was sent to my job, allowing me to travel more frequently. I’m grateful for this because it allowed me to get to know my new family.
What was your favorite job you’ve worked on in your career?
It’s between Lincoln Center and Grand Central Station. At Grand Central I worked on a Hudson News stand right in the middle, but at Lincoln Center, that job was truly exceptional.
What do you plan to do when you retire?
I own a house in Ireland and a house in France. I’m going to spend most of my time between the two, and I may buy a property down south when I sell my house in New York. Between the houses, my pension, and my annuity, I will be all set. That’s all from the union. I started out with a few thousand and that was my life savings in the bank. Everything I have is from the union. I think I’ll also start photography as a hobby. Over my career I’ve taken thousands of photos of construction projects from really incredible vantage points the average person would not have access to. I’m going to miss carpentry, but I’m excited for the next part of my life.