Sept. 03–After working in several other jobs, Terre Haute resident Todd Thompson said he is determined to become a union carpenter.
“I got tired of the jobs and decided it was time for a career, and I enjoy every minute of it,” he said of becoming a carpenter.
Thompson, 26, said he previously worked in plastics and truck manufacturing plants as well as driving a tow truck and worked in food service.
“As a carpenter, every day is different. You never know what you will be doing until you get on the job site. I form a lot of concrete with the company I am with,” adding that he worked on a concrete while building an auto parts store in Brazil.
Thompson is in his first year of a four-year apprenticeship with the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America Local 133.
He’s already been instructed on how to hang dry wall and ceiling panels, “and I have taken every upgrade class that Terre Haute has to offer, so I am trained to build scaffold, operate a fork truck, I have CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) and first aid,” he said.
When Thompson first started, he traveled with his uncle — a union carpenter who encouraged him to join the trade — to South Bend “where a company paid for an apartment for us for three months (while we were) working…to build a casino. You get hands-on experience,” Thompson said.
In June, Thompson had a setback when he had a motorcycle accident. He was taken by helicopter to an Indianapolis hospital with several injuries including broken ribs and a skull fracture.
“So, I have titanium plates through my face,” he said. Even after that accident, by late August Thompson was back in his apprenticeship.
“I love it,” he said. “Everyone I meet, along with Jason (King) my instructor, has been working with me. There is nothing I would rather do, honestly. It is like a community, everyone is here to help you,” he said.
Carpentry is one of the most versatile construction occupations, with carpenters usually doing many different tasks.
At the Local 133, the focus is on commercial and industrial work.
For example, some carpenters install drywall or can work with concrete forming systems to construct tall buildings or bridges, as well asfinishing interior and exterior walls, partitions and ceilings.
Some carpenters erect scaffolding.
“We are heavily a support for other crafts. We get them up to be able to facilitate where they can do their work,” said Greg Tucker, financial secretary and business representative for the Local 133.
For tradesmen such as pipe fitters, boilermakers and electricians, “We will built it up or build it down for them to be able to do their work, so we train our people on how to build scaffold.”
Local 133 has a training center at 3050 S. Sixth Street, which can be seen from Interstate 70. The facility offers apprentices 15,000 square feet of space to learn the trade.
Highly visible is in a large parking lot at the facility, where two large setups of scaffolding can be seen. One mimics the interior of a electrical power plant (a “boiler throat”) while another has steel beams like areas inside buildings.
While scaffolding can be started on the ground, it can also be built downward from steel beams, said King.
“Sometimes it is cheaper to build scaffolding down from a beam for 20 feet (to where it’s needed), versus trying to build it up 120 feet from the ground,” King said. “And it is accessibility, as sometimes in an industrial setting … you have to hang the scaffold.”
Tucker added that “scaffold is a lot of man hours for us. We have about all the (electrical) power houses, so we do a lot of scaffold work. We also do scaffold work building stair towers for buildings,” Tucker said. “We train our people how to build scaffold.”
Good days ahead
And Carpenters remodel commercial office buildings, hotels, schools and hospitals.
In fact, the Local 133 has a mock-up hospital site in its training center.
“We have Union and Regional hospitals here in Terre Haute. The safety of patients is important, while we are working next to them doing a remodel and messing with a ceiling title, it is our responsibility to keep them safe and also keep our own workers safe.” Tucker said.
While the Indiana/Kentucky/Ohio Regional Council of Carpenters has 32,000 members in the three states, the Local 133 has 560 members. The local union was established in 1907 in Terre Haute.
King, a 22-year member of the local union, is a fifth-generation member. His relatives started in Local 133 in 1908.
“It’s in my blood I suppose,” King said.
While previous years have been slow, Tucker said 2018 is a great year for the union.
“I don’t have a crystal ball, but right now, work has been as good as it has been in a long time,” Tucker said.
“I am a 32-year member (of the union) and there have been a lot of ups and downs, but now we are definitely on an up trend,” Tucker said. “While not necessarily all in Terre Haute, but including Bloomington, Indianapolis and the surrounding area, there is a lot going on and there is a lot on the books, on the horizon, for projects,” Tucker said.
Some current Vigo County projects include a design and laboratory building at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, new buildings for Thompson Honda and Honey Creek Collision and a renovation of a dining hall at Indiana State University, Tucker said.
Some future projects include a new Menards store, a new academic building at Rose-Hulman and a new county jail.
Tucker said being a carpenter is something he knew he wanted to be, adding a carpenter can earn a fair wage.
In 2017, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the median salary of a carpenter is $45,170 per year or $21.71 per hour. The federal agency projects an 8 percent growth in carpentry jobs through 2026, near the national average of 7 percent for all job classifications.
At the Local 133, a journeyman carpenter earns $28.85 an hour. Add in benefits of $20.40 an hour, and a journeyman earns $49.25. Based on an average of 1,600 hours a year, journeyman carpenters earn a wage of $46,160, Tucker said. With benefits, that equates to $78,800.
Starting out, carpenters wage is $12.98 an hour and goes up to $24.52 by the fourth year of apprenticeship, excluding benefits. With benefits, the range is $22.54 to $39.99 an hour.
Carpenters are just one group of workers honored on Labor Day, a national holiday set aside to pay tribute to working men and women. In 1887, Oregon became the first state to make Labor Day an official holiday and it became a national U.S. holiday in 1894.
Terre Haute has a long history with unions, and is home of American 19th century union leader Eugene V. Debs.
In addition to the carpenter’s union, some other members of the Central Wabash Valley Building and Construction Trades Council include International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Local 4 Indiana/Kentucky; Sheet Metal Workers Local 20; Cement Masons Local 692; IBEW Local 725; Ironworkers Local 22; Laborers International Local 204; International Union of Operating Engineers Local 841; Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 157; and Teamsters Local 135.
Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached 812-231-4204 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter@TribStarHoward.
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