Maximo Decaba is member of the Painters and Allied Trades District Council 11, Local 195 in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. He is an industrial painter and currently works performing preventative maintenance at the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority. Maxmino was a part of the crew that built the first wind turbine farm in the country, Block Island.
You worked on the country’s first offshore wind farm, Block Island Wind Farm. We know that offshore wind has the potential to provide abundant energy for millions of people and create millions of good union jobs. What did it mean for you to work on the first offshore wind farm?
I’m damn proud to have been one of the Painters who worked on that project. That wind farm benefits Rhode Island so much and it could benefit the whole country. It’s time we get off oil and coal and generate all of our electricity with wind and solar. We put a man on the moon with less technology, don’t tell me we can’t power this country with wind. Every time I see one of those wind turbines, I think “we did that.” Plus, if you look at those [Block Island] turbines now, they still look good.
What is something you wish more people knew about what went into building that wind farm?
It was such a priority for us to protect the water. It always is. Not a single grain of sand went in that water when we were sandblasting. Nothing goes in the water, that’s it. That training is from the union. Being union members allows us to protect the environment while we do our job.
And how did you get into this type of work?
I’ve been painting since I was 15 and I’ve been an industrial painter for the last 12 years. Honestly, I got into it through sheer luck. One day, I was painting the house of someone who happened to be a union member at the Laborers’ Union [LiUNA]. He asked if I was in the union and I told him I wasn’t. He said that he was going to help me out. A few hours later, he told me that someone from the Painters union would give me a call. I was skeptical, but thanked him all the same. When I got home, there were messages on my answering machine, asking about me. A few months later, I was painting the Claiborne Pell Newport Bridge as a union member. My life changed forever because of that day.
What has it meant for you to be in a union?
The union means everything to me. It’s a brotherhood and I can be proud of what I do. I used to live paycheck to paycheck, but now I can actually support myself and my family instead of just struggling to survive each month. I got a pension, I got medical, and I own my own home. I can go to sleep at night comfortably, knowing that I have a retirement plan once I’m 65. The union is the only thing that made this possible. I couldn’t have done it on my own.
Have you noticed any ways in which your job has become harder because of the climate crisis?
On the job, I’m exposed to lead, dust, bird poop, guano, all kinds of hazardous materials, so we always need to wear a respirator to protect ourselves. We also wear safety glasses, a face shield, a hard hat, and sometimes even hoods that are connected to a fresh oxygen supply. But when it’s hot, it’s unbearable. These summer temperatures aren’t normal, they aren’t what they used to be. Today, for example, was 100 degrees and inside the area we’re working, it was 120 degrees and incredibly muggy. This is what we gotta deal with and it definitely makes the work harder and even more dangerous.
Rhode Island recently passed this slate of state laws to build more wind power and do it with union jobs. Why is that important? How do you see these laws affecting the lives of Rhode Islanders?
When the laws passed, I was excited. These are good-paying jobs. People will be able to support their families with these jobs. The thing about a liveable wage is that everyone benefits. The more you make, the more you pay in taxes. When we all pay our fair share, we have more money for social services. We have more money to help people. Everyone benefits when you have a union job. We need more projects like Block Island and these new laws mean that there will be.
This interview has been condensed and edited for content and clarity.