In Newsletter: Spring '21

Looking back at 2020, last year put unheard of challenges in our path, yet our District Council and the Training Department continued a steady forward progression. COVID–19 set us back in a way that was unimaginable at the time, but just as I knew we would, the training department figured out a way to keep going. 


Looking ahead at 2021, I am optimistic for a better year ahead. Even though Health & Safety classes initially shut down, we quickly converted to Zoom training. Though not every class could make the switch, we did enough to make it work. On June 1, 2020, the new Mobile Elevated Work Platform (MEWP) standard came into effect; this was a new training course that could not wait, so we adapted with a hybrid. 


It was decided that two nights would be delivered via Zoom, while the hands-on practical exam would be conducted on Saturdays in our New Hampshire training center. We continue to follow all COVID-19 protocols and stagger the members coming into the test, which allows us to socially distance while still getting the job done.


Apprenticeship classes presented a unique set of challenges. Initially we shut down entirely, and without a clear understanding of what lay ahead, the Massachusetts Building Trades Training Directors Association looked to the agency in charge of the MA Department of Labor Standards for some relief.  Most trades realized we shut down with just one or two weeks of related classroom left in the academic season, and our request for relief was denied. We were told to continue holding apprenticeship training via Zoom, which was a tall order from someone who had never spent a day in their life on a construction site. So after a meeting with the FTI New England Craft Directors, collectively we decided to get back into the classroom when we could do so safely. 


About two weeks into June, all of our classes resumed in person with reduced class sizes. Our instructors continued straight into August, only to start a new academic year two weeks later. We still run approximately the same number of apprentices; however, now we utilize both training centers completely and offsite charity work when available.


Recently I learned of a study that addressed the toll Zoom meetings take on our health. According to the study, video conferencing is much more stressful for both the instructor and the participant because of the constant fear of something going wrong (i.e., what if I lose internet connection, my dog starts barking or a family member walks through my background etc.) It might not sound like a lot, but it takes its toll, especially when you are doing it constantly.  


So, what a relief it is to know District Council 35 and the FTI of New England are leading the way with initiatives started at our International.  To my knowledge, we are the only ones who have completed all ten steps of the Changing the Culture of Construction and the Mental Health First Aid programs.  The Changing the Culture training was designed to inform and empower the construction industry by separating fact from fiction and encouraging our workforce to choose proactivity when it comes to behavioral health issues and addictions. The overarching goal is to educate individuals, in turn promoting a healthy, safe, and substance free working environment. Director of Health and Safety Mike Moreschi, Instructor Jim McCann, and Business Representative Chris Brennen have successfully visited each apprentice class twice to deliver this training.


Phase two includes a Zoom video conference with the Samaritans to discuss the awareness of suicide prevention to all second-year students. 


Phase three is the Mental Health First Aid (MHFA). Just as CPR helps you assist an individual having a heart attack, Mental Health First Aid helps you assist someone experiencing a mental health or substance use-related crisis. In the MHFA course, you learn risk factors and warning signs for mental health and addiction concerns, strategies for how to help someone in both crisis and non-crisis situations, and where to turn for help.  With the full support of Business Manager Jeff Sullivan, our team delivered this training first to every individual who works for DC 35, then to the Funds office and the Training Department. 


The thought process behind this plan was to ensure no matter who answers the phone at the Union hall, if a member was experiencing a mental health crisis, the person on the receiving end will have training to help with the situation. As soon as the staff completed their training, Mike and his team went to work delivering this to all our participating third-year apprentices. Every apprentice will receive this important training each year of their apprenticeship, especially now during the pandemic.


Recently, Jim Sullivan led our second-year commercial painting apprentices on a volunteer project called Hope Street Sober Living in Attleboro, Massachusetts. The project is run by former member Domenic Barese, son of Local 939 President Eddie Barese. Jim arranged to have journeyperson supervision as the apprentices went to work and transformed the property. The facility is now open and ready to help those struggling with addictions. Congratulations to everyone involved – this project is well worth the effort.


Last but certainly not least, I would like to formally welcome Jeremy Allen on board as he takes the reins as the Director of Industrial Coatings from retiring Director Wayne Cummings.  Jeremy joined the union in 2008 as an apprentice in the Industrial Painting training, graduating at the top of his class. Soon after, he became a trusted member of our team as an instructor as well as a foreman for companies like Prime Coatings and Tri-State Painting. I have no doubt Jeremy will continue the high standard set before him and bring the Industrial Painting program to new heights.


Thank you to all of our brothers and sisters for riding out a difficult year, and we look forward to growing further together.


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