Minnesota Building Trades on path to becoming Yellow Ribbon organization

Tom Simonet (L), chair of the Minnesota ESGR, joins Building Trades Council President Joe Fowler at the table during a signing ceremony.

The Minnesota Building and Construction Trades Council redoubled its commitment to recruiting military members and veterans into careers in the union trades this week, taking the first step toward becoming a Yellow Ribbon Company.

The council of 15 craft unions, representing over 70,000 Minnesota tradespeople, held a signing ceremony Wednesday with Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR), a federal program that promotes cooperation between National Guard members and their civilian employers.

President Joe Fowler, a member of LIUNA Local 563, signed an agreement on behalf of the council pledging to stand beside those who serve their country in the National Guard and follow all laws related to their employment.

Signing the agreement is the first official step in becoming a Yellow Ribbon Company. Minnesota’s 84 Yellow Ribbon employers have been formally recognized for their support of military employees and local communities to benefit service members, veterans and military families.

“We know we can make a meaningful difference as a Yellow Ribbon organization,” Fowler said in remarks to government officials, Building Trades leaders and representatives of the Guard who attended the ceremony. “This is another landmark in our efforts to do intentional outreach to women, BIPOC communities and our military members, veterans and their families.”

Prior to the signing ceremony, which was held at the Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT) District Council 82 hall in Little Canada, Fowler and other members of the Building Trades’ steering committee spent the day meeting with officials from ESGR, the state Department of Veterans Affairs, county veterans-services officers and other agencies, assembling an action plan to meet the criteria of a Yellow Ribbon Company.

Annette Kuyper, director of military outreach for Beyond the Yellow Ribbon in Minnesota, said participating employers commit to three principles:

  • Hiring members of the Guard, military veterans and their spouses.
  • Supporting those workers in their civilian and military careers.
  • Joining military-support efforts in the community.

Local Building Trades unions already have proven themselves eager to serve military families, Kuyper said, remembering an interaction with Fowler last November.

“We were getting holiday bags all throughout Minnesota to military families who needed budget-stretcher meal boxes and turkeys,” Kuyper said. “At the last minute we had a couple volunteers who were COVID positive. I made one call to Joe, and he had volunteers bringing supplies to Mankato and Duluth within hours.

“This is what it truly means to be a Yellow Ribbon organization.”

Construction unions, their contractors and their joint apprenticeship training programs have a track record of outreach to military families, too. The Helmets to Hardhats program has connected over 40,000 U.S. military veterans nationwide with union apprenticeship programs, which are the first step toward family-sustaining jobs in the construction industry.

Minnesota National Guard Major General Shawn Manke joins the signing ceremony.

“That’s 40,000 men and women whose lives changed, or family’s trajectories changed for the better,” said Bill Mulcrone, Midwest regional director of Helmets to Hardhats. “The contractors are getting quality workers, and our unions are getting better members.”

Several speakers at the ceremony emphasized the natural partnership between Building Trades unions and the U.S. military. Both Fowler and Major Gen. Shawn Manke, senior leader of the Minnesota National Guard, noted that many union tradespeople serve as citizen soldiers.

By becoming a Yellow Ribbon Company, Manke said, the Building Trades Council will create more opportunities for Guard members to “take their military-acquired skills into the civilian sector” – and vice versa.

“We have a number of soldiers and airmen who serve in our organization and in the Trades, and have completed military and occupational skill training specifically focused on horizontal and vertical construction, plumbing, electrical and HVAC,” Manke said.

“Support of organizations like the Minnesota Building and Construction Trades Council is crucial to employees as we make sure that our service members are well trained for whatever mission they may be asked to perform, from our federal mission overseas to our state mission here,” he added. “Your commitment to the men and women of our organization is admirable and certainly appreciated.”

Tom Simonet, chair of the Minnesota ESGR, said the Building Trades’ support would make a difference for Minnesota’s National Guard soldiers – and for Minnesota’s construction industry as a whole.

“When I go out to the (Guard) units, one of the things I do is encourage them to look at who has signed a statement of support,” Simonet said. “And what they bring to you is a level of loyalty, dedication and knowledge that outweighs anything else.”

%d bloggers like this: