Tribal Outreach Program Proves to be Popular

An outreach effort that provides a hands-on introduction to construction work has given several Native American tribes in the Pacific Northwest appreciation of the career opportunities available to their members through the Carpenters Union.

Launched in November, the two-day program offers participants an immersion into carpentry, from the basics of proper measuring and identifying nails and other fasteners and to blueprint reading and the math required to do the work.

“We focus on things that are important to people coming onto a jobsite for the first time,” said Rockey Marshall, a representative for the Pacific Northwest Regional Council, which created the program as part of its longstanding efforts to work with Native Americans. “We cover topics that are the basic things apprentices do every day of their work lives, with safety awareness incorporated throughout.”

The dozen or so participants in each of the sessions work with Pacific Northwest council representatives and instructors from affiliated training programs.

“Every class we’ve had was full,” said Marshall, adding that extra participants were frequently squeezed in because of high interest among the tribal members. “Our dropout rate is phenomenal, with only one or so per class.”

By giving participants a taste of what to expect, the classes hope to attract candidates who know going in that the work is tough, demanding, and rewarding.

“We emphasize that this is a career, not a job,” said council representative Jim Wallace, who helped develop the training program and coordinates the effort by working with the union, its training programs, and the tribes.

The six classes already held have proved so popular that tribes are contacting the Pacific Northwest council to schedule sessions, and two that previously participated have asked for return visits.

“Two days can’t change a life, but they can change a direction,” said Doug Tweedy, executive secretary-treasurer of the Pacific Northwest Regional Council. “We’re proud of the opportunity to give these men and women a foot in the door as they look to better provide for themselves and their families.”

The tribes that have participated in the program so far are the: Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, Crow Nation, Northern Cheyenne Tribe, Shoshone Bannock Tribe, Shoshone Paiute Tribes of the Duck Valley Reservation, and the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation. They sent about 90 members through the training.

The United Brotherhood of Carpenters, through its Native American Outreach Project initiative, has long partnered with tribal entities to encourage their members to pursue careers in the UBC and for the union to play a part in projects on Indian lands.

A Bridge of Understanding
The two-day training program builds on other recent tribal outreach successes by the UBC’s Pacific Northwest Regional Council, which include building a literal and figurative bridge with four other tribes.

The tribes—Nez Perce Tribe, Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Indian Reservation of Oregon, and the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation—joined with the council and drafted a tribal labor agreement in spring of 2010. Tribes, in their positions as sovereign nations, negotiate these agreements to cultivate work and training opportunities for their members while providing unions and their signatory contractors access to work on tribal lands.

The agreement is unique because of the number of tribes involved, said council representative Rockey Marshall, who helped negotiate the accord.

It has covered the construction of a bridge in the unincorporated Wyeth area of Hood River County, Ore., near the Idaho border. The bridge, which is due to be completed in May, will provide Columbia River access site for tribal fishermen and serve a future day-use state park.