Op-Ed: Carpenter Apprenticeships — A Pathway to the American Dream

05.05.2022 jwatson

Author: Denise Echevarria, union member, Local 157

As a mother of eight, life hasn’t always been easy. For many years, I lived in Section 8 housing, working minimum wage jobs to pay the bills, all while ensuring my children had food on the table. Sustaining my family was difficult, and with little opportunity for advancement, I had to look elsewhere to ensure a stable future for myself and my children.

It wasn’t until I was 38 years old when my husband came home with a flyer for Construction Skills, an apprenticeship readiness program for the unionized construction industry, that changed everything.

The program was vigorous. I would return home so tired that I couldn’t even lift my arms. I saw many of my peers drop out one by one, but I knew for my family I couldn’t give up. I knew that the apprenticeship was a steppingstone for my career – but I could have never imagined the opportunities that I would find after I graduated and joined the NYC Carpenters Union.

Joining the Carpenters Union changed my life for the better. For the first time, I had a stable job, receiving family-sustaining wages, a 401k, and my own health insurance. I was finally able to stop living paycheck to paycheck and provide for my children. I found a job that I was passionate about. There is nothing more fulfilling than building my beloved city from the ground up, and in 2010, I was honored to be a part of the team that built the World Trade Center. Seeing my work become part of New York’s history and iconic skyline is indescribable but seeing the pride on my children’s faces is even better.

Looking back, it’s hard to believe how far I’ve come. I was just a young girl in the Bronx that didn’t even believe that women could work in construction or that I would ever be able to carve out a stable future for my children. Now, I’m a certified shop steward, a delegate for Local 157, and vice president of the union’s Women’s Committee. I’ve even been able to help my children pay for college, fund their own homes, and become a homeowner myself.

My journey is exactly what apprenticeships are all about – building pathways to the middle class. That’s why apprenticeship programs like NYCDCC’s BuildingWorks are critical. Since 1995, BuildingWorks has trained over 1,000 residents from low-income communities for careers in the skilled trades. Offering free training, BuildingWorks works diligently with community partners to ensure that the union is providing opportunities to diverse populations from underserved communities from each borough.

So as National Apprenticeship Week draws to a close, our investment in apprenticeship programs cannot end. We must continue to celebrate and invest in this hallmark of the American Dream for generations to come.