April 2013

Our Work & Our Voice

To the public, an ironworker is mostly identified with the erection of structural steel, from skyscrapers to bridges. Throughout our history, people have marveled over the daring men and women working high above on narrow beams as “cowboys of the sky” or today’s “iron men.”

That cultural identity has helped define our trade as one that takes on all challenges with no job being too tough for the Iron Workers and embodies the shared bond we have with each other as brother and sister ironworkers—facing challenges together; relying on each other for our safety; and counting on one another to get the job done. There is a lot to be proud of as a union ironworker.

While the public sees and benefits from the projects we build, they do not understand how we accomplish these tremendous tasks or what goes into becoming a union ironworker. That must change! We need to change people’s perspective so they are awed not just by our amazing feats of steel erection, but that we accomplish those feats safely, without injuries or death. The public must recognize the training and professionalism on display, and that their own self-interest is best served when union ironworkers are on the job.

When our value is understood and community support is gained, our signatory contractors gain work. Project labor agreements become the norm, apprenticeship programs are required, regulations are enforced, irresponsible contractors are punished and organizing campaigns are embraced.

And it starts with each and every member. Every job must be a testament to our skill, with each project delivered safely, with the highest quality craftsmanship, on time and under budget. Let our work speak for us. But not entirely, for each one of us is an educator and salesman. You have a tremendous audience with your friends, family and acquaintances through your churches, school groups, sports and many social activities.

Our training, journeyman and apprentice, is often described as our best-kept secret. It shouldn’t be. Open those training room doors to tours for legislators, community groups, students, plant managers, industry representatives and others so we can demonstrate our commitment to their success and the career opportunities that would be available to even more residents when union ironworkers and our contractors are hired.

Let them know how much we are part of the local economy and community.  Small businesses are the greatest beneficiary of fair wages; when you go shopping, make sure they know where that dollar you just spent came from. Building strong relationships with the community through activism and charitable work also creates valuable allies who can become recruiters and advocates.

We practice this outreach across North America with a multitude of various industry organizations through IMPACT, a strong coalition of community groups with the Organizing Department, and the efforts of our Political and Legislative Department, all of which are dedicated to educating the public, changing the perspective of how we are viewed and creating more opportunities for our members.

We cannot be viewed as the “crazy guys up there” and defined by 40-year-old movie stereotypes. We must replace myths and lies with the truth and, if need be, speak to one ear at a time with one voice at a time—your voice.

Thank you for helping to build our great union.