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Trade unions launch regional recruiting drive

FNS Photo Steve Cortina, center, and Alberto Alfaro, right, of Local 563 Laborers Union recruit trade workers April 25 at Kelly Inn in Fargo.

FARGO — The region’s labor shortage has prompted seven trade unions to band together to sponsor worker recruitment fairs around North Dakota.

Dakota Construction Careers hopes to fill some of the hundreds of jobs available in the trades in this region before construction season hits full stride, said Robb Leer, a spokesman for the group.

The unions stopped around North Dakota the past six weeks, and will be in South Dakota this week, Leer said.

“We’re trying to get the word out that there’s an urgency to get more skilled workers into the talent pool. These are North Dakota careers for North Dakotans,” Leer said.

The joint effort saves the groups money and time when they try to recruit from the same talent pool, Leer said.

Their recent Fargo stop was the most successful yet, Leer said, with 150 people walking in the door and more than two-dozen hired and punching a time clock by last week.

“Everybody’s short of workers right now across the state of North Dakota,” said Darrell Miller, who manned a table at the Fargo job fair. Miller is a business representative and organizer for the International Union of Operating Engineers.

He said job sites need operating engineers (heavy equipment operators, mechanics and surveyors), laborers, iron workers, bricklayers, painters, carpenters and concrete workers.

All of the trade unions, he said, offer similar enticements that include health insurance, pensions and a good wage for all workers, including untrained beginners.

Those who need training will get it on the job, Miller said. “They’ll earn while they learn.”

Workers just starting out, especially apprentices, can expect to make $18 to $20 an hour, while those with some experience are looking at $24 to $25 an hour, Miller said.

“Add (health) insurance, the pension and everything else, you’re looking at $35 to $38 an hour, total package, is what they’re going to make immediately,” he said.

It sounded good to Casey Brevik, 23, of Fargo, who attended the Fargo fair to see the options available.

Brevik said he’s worked in the construction industry for two years and is narrowing down which trade to make a career.

“I’m trying to find something solid,” he said, adding that he’s aiming for painting or masonry. “The pay is excellent, in certain areas.”

Miller said some people hesitate to join a union, in part over worries magnified by union opponents — particularly about strikes.

“I’ve been in the union 30 years and I’ve never been on a strike, ever,” Miller said.

Brevik said one thing he wouldn’t be keen on would be a long-term stint in the Oil Patch, where he spent much of last summer doing construction work.

“It gets old fast,” he said of issues in places like Williston, which now sees housing shortages and heavy traffic.

But Brevik and others don’t have to rely on the Bakken for jobs.

Jason Alert, who attended the Fargo fair for the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades District 82, said demand for construction workers is statewide.

Last year, “Our (union) locals in North Dakota stayed busy all year long, and it doesn’t show any signs of slowing down,” he said.

Will Gores, 22, of Fargo, has never worked in construction but checked out the job fair anyway.

“I don’t have any experience in any of these fields. I’m trying to expand my horizons a little bit,” Gores said.

He said construction work is different than other jobs he’s had, but he’d consider it for the pay and for what that could mean for his family that includes an 18-month-old son.

Leer said there are plenty of jobs for those who like to work with their hands.

Many projects, be they working on highways, bridges, hospitals or schools, are funded and set to be built, Leer said.

“If you’re motivated by work and the sense of accomplishment that comes from building, there’s going to be something for you,” Leer said. “Everybody’s looking for help. The times are just unprecedented. This hasn’t happened before.”

Forum News Service reporter Helmut Schmidt contributed to this report.