MEETING THE CHANGES OF THE CONSTRUCTION INDUSTRY BY CHRISTIAN BRENNAN
In the labor movement, our mission is simple: to fight for the wellbeing of working families everywhere. We are constantly adapting to a changing industry to ensure our members have what they need to have long, healthy careers in the building trades – from mental health resources, to top safety and skills training, to laws and policies that will impact the work we do for and in the future. If we meet the moment, the next generation of building trades workers will be prepared for long-lasting careers in the trades, both on and off the job site.
We work jobs that are physically and mentally demanding, and without access to the support and tools needed to get through mental health struggles, people can be left feeling like there’s no way out. I am no stranger to seeing this struggle in our industry, or experiencing it myself. The construction industry has one of the highest suicide rates of any industry, and a rate of substance misuse that is almost twice the national average.
Seeking help for substance misuse was an important decision in my life and I am grateful for the support I received. I am one of the fortunate ones who found help, and I have lived substance free for years. Being part of a union is not just about the work we do to build our hospitals, schools, and bridges – it’s also about building up working people to secure their financial, physical, and mental wellbeing.
The construction industry had the highest rate of opioid-related deaths and the most opioid-related deaths out of all industries in Massachusetts from 2018 – 2020. Construction workers in Massachusetts are seven times more likely to die due to an opioid overdose compared to all other workers. The situation is dire, but DC 35 is dedicated to helping those who need it and ensuring that these numbers not only decrease, but one day go down to zero.
DC 35 has created a successful Peer Support program and are working with our International to expand it across the US and Canada. The program trains IUPAT members on how to discuss mental health issues with their union siblings and how to help them access the many resources we have available. By giving our members the tools to advocate for themselves and others, we hope to change the culture of construction and open the door for more programs like this.
To change the culture of construction in the long term, we have to look to the future of the industry: our apprentices. Our union provides substance use classes for first-year apprentices and mental health classes for third-year apprentices. At the class of 2023 apprenticeship graduation in June, I couldn’t help but reflect on how different the future of our union will be now that we start teaching apprentices from their first year that it’s okay to ask for help and that there are many resources available to help our union siblings who are struggling.
Outside of our pioneering mental health efforts, we can also be leaders in our industry as our economy shifts to incorporate green initiatives as the US works to lessen our dependence on fossil fuels. That’s why we were proud to host our Green Buildings Forum in May to showcase our skills and help shape the policies that will increase our work hours and improve our communities. We discussed savings and funding opportunities, labor and training resources, and innovations that municipalities and building owners can leverage to maximize energy efficiency. As Boston and New England’s construction industry adapts, our members are trained and ready to meet critical green building and retrofitting goals.
We also recently hosted a CAS Forum at our Brentwood, New Hampshire training center to highlight our members’ expertise in coatings and corrosion protection. With billions in infrastructure spending coming our way, there will be significant investments in ensuring our existing infrastructure is maintained and will last for generations. Staying on the cutting edge will be key for the future of our industry.
At DC 35, we’re fighting for the whole wellbeing of our members – financially, physically, and mentally. As I spoke to our graduating apprentices, including my own daughter, in June, I felt proud of the work we’ve done so far to ensure that our members are the best-trained workforce on the job and have the support they need off the job. The future of our industry is in all of our hands. We have to meet the moment.