Op-Ed: Union Carpenters Are Building Futures and Careers

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By: Jasmine Kenchen, Local Union 157

Being a union carpenter is everything to me. It’s allowed me to accomplish tremendous growth both in my career and in my life. In the four and a half years that I have been in the trades, I’ve realized that building union is not just about a good-paying job. For me, it’s about finding a community, boosting confidence in myself, and most importantly, building a better New York for generations to come.

I started my journey in a pre-apprenticeship program with NEW (Nontraditional Employment for Women), and now I am a proud member of Local Union 157 in the NYC Carpenters Union. The construction trades offer the chance for economic independence and quality benefits that women deserve access to, so I’m grateful for the support I, and many other women, have found through NEW.

I would encourage any woman considering a job in the construction trades to take the leap. There were times on the job when I did not feel fully accepted and questioned if I belonged in this field, but I persevered because no matter what, I was not going to give up on my future. I strive to always work to the best of my ability, and I’m proud to say that my attention to detail, creativity, and innovation has helped me excel and find newfound confidence in myself.

Beyond my personal journey, I have built a second family through the union. The Sisters in the Brotherhood (SIB) mentorship program has been a pivotal part of my union experience. My mentor Caridad Castro has given me advice and motivated me to achieve my goals since day one. She faced similar challenges throughout her career and has been able to guide me and encourage me to never give up.

There are so many future sisters that need the same support and encouragement to overcome their challenges. The NYC Carpenters Union is working to bridge the gap and make their opportunities available to everyone. Entry programs like NEW and programs in the union like SIB that connect women within the union are powerful tools to retain women, so there is true representation of the communities where we live and work.

Representing and uplifting our communities is a core value of the NYC Carpenters Union because we are building the future of New York. I’m working alongside 30 of my fellow union brothers and sisters to modernize infrastructure at the NYCHA Red Hook Houses. The project will construct buildings that will house all utilities above ground, helping to protect over 6,000 tenants from power outages. This project is just one example of the incredible work that union carpenters do to better the lives of thousands of New Yorkers.

I am coming up on my last class as an apprentice. It’s bittersweet but I know this is just the beginning. I have a clear pathway to a stable future and have goals of becoming a shop steward, a foreman, a site safety manager, and a superintendent to grow my impact both within the union and across the rest of the city.

Once you start your journey in the NYC Carpenters Union, the only way is up. It is an experience of constant learning and growth that ends with the opportunity to secure your future, connect with your community, and build up the city we all call home.