Vets: The Carpenters Have Got You COVERed

United we stand, divided we beg. One of the founding principles of this country is that diverse people, armed with the strength of unity, can accomplish more than even the most powerful individual. The freedom to join and demand a better future is a sacred tenet that many have fought for, and many others have paid the ultimate price to preserve. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder means the power of unified voices has an effect which echoes far beyond the workplace. Countless studies have shown that unions have the power to improve entire communities, ones of geography and identity. This is true for pretty much anyone who must work for a living, but fittingly, one of the communities that benefits most from unionization are the men and women who have defended the right to do so: veterans.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) estimates, on any given night there are over 40,000 homeless veterans. Another 1.4 million veterans are considered at risk of homelessness due to poverty, and lack of support networks. On California’s Gold Coast, Local 805’s Veterans Education Committee has cultivated a network to address these issues for some of our Southern California vets through their Carpenter Outreach for Veteran Employment and Readjustment program (COVER).

No one should be paid wages so low that working full-time can still leave them below the poverty line. With the COVER program, veterans can do more than simply get a good job. They can join a network of professionals prepared to give them the guidance they need on their new career track, as well as a community of union brothers and sisters to help them readjust to civilian life.

When veterans retire from service, part of the benefits they receive can include an education stipend. However, with the cost of a bachelor’s degree skyrocketing, the stipend doesn’t always adequately cover the cost of university tuition. Sometimes, traditional four-year colleges just don’t meet the needs or interests of our veterans. Many veterans leave service with college experience. Add to that the skills and knowledge gained in years of service to our country, most are eager to start on a sustainable and fulfilling career track. The result is that some veterans can feel stuck between two lives, unable to take full advantage of the rewards for their service.

Left to right: Armando Delgado, Local 805 Representative (Veteran Education Committee Chairman/P.A.C) Martin McLaughlin Local 805 Representative ( Political Action Leader/ Vet. Ed. Committee), U.S. Representative Julia Brownley (California, CD-26), Pete Rodriguez, Southwest Regional Council President.

From One Brotherhood to Another

Many of the skills veterans need for success in the armed services are still applicable in the trades. “We’re not just trying to get these guys jobs, we want to set them up to hone the skills they need to be leaders out on the sites,” said Brother Armando Delgado, Local 805 Business Representative, and U.S. Marine Corp retired veteran. “We’re not sitting back and hoping they come to us, we’re recruiting them and saying, look, if you want an opportunity to have a great career and be a part of a new brotherhood, this is the place to do it.”

After four years of active duty as a Machine Gunner, Delgado joined Local 805. Back then there wasn’t a large veteran presence. He says only two or three guys were former servicemen. That’s all changed now. Since the Veterans Education Committee was formed one year ago, 17 veterans have joined the SWRCC, and been hired by union signatory contractors. Of 17, 12 are still a part of Local 805 and five others have moved to other Locals.

“When I left the Marines, I was lost. I needed to find a purpose,” said Delgado. “Out on the sites, there were no veterans, no mentors for me. It wasn’t their fault, it was just that guys didn’t really understand what I was going through.”

Carpenter Vet Finds a Gap, and Fills It

There are other organizations that seek to help veterans find employment, but many times the effort only goes as far as a job board. Recognizing the gap, Delgado started talking with other SWRCC veterans, like Brother Emmett Cromwell, Local 1607 Business Representative and U.S. Navy Master at Arms, retired. The goal was finding ways to help veterans find purpose and integrate back into society. Doing that would require more than just posting jobs on a corkboard, or online. Delgado and likeminded carpenters began reaching out to veterans and contacting contractors like Center Drywall and McCarthy Co. who were keen on hiring veterans. Those early conversations were the spark that led to veteran recruitment initiatives across the Southwest Regional Council.

The Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters (SWRCC) is committed to helping the brave men and women who have served this country.

Investing in Veterans’ Futures

Through the UBC Apprenticeship Program and the Southwest Carpenters Training Fund, veterans can build a strong foundation for a fulfilling career. The Apprenticeship program is accredited by the Department of Education, which means veterans can utilize their stipend for on-the-job training. This allows them to pursue career development without committing the extra time or accruing the significant debt associated with traditional four-year schools, all while earning a living wage. But that’s only the beginning.

Today, veterans all over the SWRCC are helping former servicemen go from a military brotherhood to a brotherhood of carpenters. In Las Vegas, for example, Brother John Whitesitt, U.S. Marine Corp retired, formed the Veterans Education Committee. Louis Ontiveros, Director of the Southwest Carpenters Training Fund, U.S. Marine Corp retired, is also working to help put veterans on the carpenter career track.

Delgado’s and the COVER team’s efforts haven’t gone unnoticed. Congresswoman Julia Brownley, part of House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, and Assemblywoman Jacqui Irwin, Chairwoman for the State of California Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, have lent their support to the cause. With help from local businesses, veteran apprentices are provided with the COVER Apprentice Starter Kit, which includes work boots, clothes, basic hand tools, and a gas card for transportation to give new union carpenters a leg-up, all free of charge.

Last year, three veterans attended 805’s Skills Event in Camarillo. This year, they’re expecting more than 20. What started out as a word-of-mouth effort, one brother reaching out to another, has expanded into something with far-reaching impact. “We’re doing everything we can to make sure they have no excuses for failure,” said Delgado. “That’s the most important thing for veterans is finding a new purpose in life, a chance at being a part of a community.”

Veterans Education Committee members accompanied by Assemblywoman Jacqui Irwin at community career expo.