Vennicia K. works in the construction industry as a laborer and owner of Eagle Eye Construction LLC. She lives in Rhode Island and is a member of Laborers’ International Union of North America (LiUNA) Local 271.
How did you get into the construction industry?
I went through the Building Futures Construction Pre-Apprenticeship program. I didn’t know anything about construction, but in that program, I got training and learned about options within the union trades and the great wages and benefits that go along with them. I graduated from the program and got accepted into LiUNA Local 271 in 2011. My first first project was restoring the Pawtucket River Bridge and I haven’t looked back since.
Why is being a union member important to you?
The great wages is a big one. My first job offer as an apprentice was for $22/hour. The [non-union] job before that [I had] paid me $10/hour. Additionally, I get good health benefits, including eye care and dental, and I get a pension and can save for retirement. Having a union job afforded me the opportunity to really think about what I wanted in my life. I’d always wanted to be able to own and fix up my own home and working in construction, in a union job, allowed me the skills and means to do just that.
Why are labor standards important?
Union trades are really skilled and reliable labor. We understand how our job sites interact with the environment and we have high standards. There are rules that make the work safe for us and the environment. For example, when we do waste and hazardous materials removal—like taking down an old bridge or removing lead and asbestos—we test the soil, we test the materials. We don’t just put stuff anywhere, we dispose of things properly. We don’t want the workers, their families, or the future tenants of buildings to get sick.
Have you and your coworkers been impacted by the climate crisis?
The elements are changing significantly, and that means real risks for construction and road work and even building work—basically, anyone who works outside. Heat is a serious issue. Being exposed to heat messes with production because you need to move slower and you have to be mindful of staying hydrated. The risk of heat stroke becomes high and even cooling down can be dangerous if not done properly. It really changes the way we can do our job in a safe and timely manner.
Why is it important for lawmakers to support strong labor standards while creating green and healthy schools?
We [union workers] are trained to follow high standards and safety measures. When it comes to building schools, and changing the way we think about them, like ensuring water fountains can refill bottles, using recycled water for flushing toilets, installing LED lights instead of fluorescent, or using more durable building materials so that school buildings last longer, strong [labor] standards matter. And union work is about standards. When it comes to building new schools, it just makes sense to use union jobs.
This interview has been condensed and edited for content and clarity.