Rashad Merchant-Bey is an up-and-coming 3rd-year apprentice in Local 157, a veteran, and an alumnus of Helmets to Hardhats, but he started as just a kid in Harlem with big dreams of following in his father’s footsteps. Read his story to learn how this Marine became a union carpenter!
As a union carpenter, there’s a stark difference between this career and your old one as a Marine. Tell us about your journey that helped you get here.
- Well, I was in the Marine Corps for four years. I’m a very hands-on person, so I did well in the Marines, and it helped me realize I didn’t see myself in a career sitting behind a desk when my time in the Marines ended. My dad is also a union carpenter in Local 157, and from seeing the opportunity and life it gave him, I thought it would be a perfect career for me. Once I decided to become a union carpenter, I got to work right away. I didn’t want to waste any time. I joined through Helmets to Hardhats. It was a seamless process. When they asked what I was interested in doing, I said I wanted to be a union carpenter in New York. I had no second or third options. I started the whole process two months before my tour in the military ended, and within two months of coming home, I was accepted into the apprenticeship program.
How did it feel when you became an apprentice? Was it everything you thought it would be?
- It felt amazing. I had a trajectory for my life, and like the military, I knew I was part of a brotherhood again. Growing up, my dad would always take me to the union events — Softball Tournament, Labor Day Parades, local family outings, etc. I used to be there as his son. Now, I’m there as a member and as a union brother. The feeling of being a part of this is the best.
Once the initial feeling of being a member wore off, were there any challenges?
- Of course. For starters, I wasn’t a people person when I joined. But in this brotherhood, you must mold yourself into a people person to succeed. In this union, everybody is there for each other. I have a lot of people in my company, and they take the time to mentor me through my apprenticeship. They show me the best ways to do things and tricks of the trade, and they have my back. The mentors I found in our community are great, from forepersons to journey people to older apprentices. Everyone just wants to help others succeed.
Would you encourage others to join the union?
- Yes, without a doubt, yes! The brotherhood aspect of the union is great and it’s for everyone, by the way. Black, white, female, or male, everyone is welcome. On top of the community, you get to be part of, you also will be paid fairly and have the means to provide for your family.
Can you speak more about providing for your family?
- A lot of people out there want to provide for their families, but it’s not that simple. Most people can’t do that on one income. In this union, you can! I have two kids, a wife, a three-bedroom apartment in the Bronx, and a brand-new vehicle. If I can afford all this alone, it shows how well union carpenters are compensated. In this industry, you have the means to provide for your family. All you have to do is go to work, give it your all, and you’ll be fine.
Where do you see yourself in five or ten years?
- Most people will laugh, but I hope to be a foreman for one of our signatory contractors in ten years. It’s ambitious, but I’m giving it my all. It can’t hurt to try!