By Carly Horton Stuart
From the trans-Alaska oil pipeline to bridges, buildings and roads, Laborers’ Local 341 has helped build Alaska. Chartered in 1947, with jurisdiction over Southcentral and Southwest Alaska, the union represents members of the construction, health care, public sector and service contract industries.
“Local 341 negotiates benefits, wages and working conditions on behalf of its members, and we advocate for quality jobs and safe highways and bridges,” said business manager Joey Merrick. “We support efforts to expand oil and gas production to bring our country closer to energy independence.”
Local 341, together with Local 942 and Public Employees Local 71, compose the Alaska District Council of Laborers, which is affiliated with Laborers’ International Union of North America (LiUNA). LiUNA’s members are united through collective bargaining agreements that help them earn family-supporting pay, good benefits, and the opportunity for advancement and better lives.
According to the 2018 Alaska’s Construction Spending Forecast, the need for skilled construction workers in Alaska is increasing. The total value of construction spending “on the street” in Alaska in 2018 will be $6.6 billion, up 4 percent from 2017. The increase is largely due to a recovery in petroleum-sector spending, which is expected to grow 15 percent. Mining, utilities and defense spending are also expected to increase.
From classroom to construction
Along with negotiating on behalf of its members and advocacy work, Local 341 is committed to training the next generation of construction workers so they can meet the demands of Alaska’s third-largest industry.
The Laborers’ apprenticeship program, administered through the Alaska Laborers Training School, teaches the necessary skills to become a construction craft laborer by combining classroom instruction with on-the-job training under the supervision of journey-level workers. Each apprentice is required to complete 144 hours of classroom training per year, with topics that include hoisting and rigging, pipelaying, scaffolding and OSHA 30.
“The classes at the Alaska Laborers Training School prepare the next generation of laborers by providing the training necessary to continue our exceptional safety and productivity records,” Merrick said. “As the industry evolves, we stay abreast of the latest technological advancements, so our graduates gain a complete understanding of the practical and technical aspects of their trade.”
Originally from Monroe, Louisiana, apprenticeship graduate Kyle Colvin said he’d always been drawn to the construction industry.
“I didn’t have family members in the industry, but as a kid, I’d always liked building things. It sounds silly, but my favorite toys were always blocks and Lincoln Logs. I was about to graduate high school, and my uncle and family friends encouraged me to look into a construction union apprenticeship program,” he said.
Enrollees of the Alaska Laborers Training School, regardless of experience, immediately begin to earn a wage while learning on the job and in the classroom. As their skills, knowledge and experience increase, so does their paycheck. The school — usually a four- to five-year commitment —allows apprentices to achieve journey worker status.
Colvin started his apprenticeship in 2013 with a two-week boot camp and said, “I fell in love. Being part of the program has been nothing but a blessing. When people think construction, they think hammers and nails. I became certified as a crane rigger, and there’s so much I had to learn: how to calculate load weights, determine wind force, and understand safety codes and standards. It’s hands on, but there’s a lot of math and science too. I’ve been part of a dirt pipe crew the last three years, and those guys have become like family to me.”
Colvin graduated in summer 2017. While most of his friends who attended college are wondering how they’re going to pay off their student loan debut, Colvin has no such concerns.
“When I first started the program, I was just looking to see where it would take me,” he said. “Now I’m focused on longer-term goals, like becoming an instructor.”
Building economic security
Highway construction contractor QAP is just one of several hundred contractors that have long relied on
the skilled members of Local 341.
“QAP’s business is built on innovation and efficiency, and Laborers’ Local 341 is essential to our success in a rapidly changing industry,” said Todd Porter, QAP general manager. “From tight project timelines to tough working conditions, Local 341 members rise to each challenge with the skills and experience it takes to do an efficient and exceptional job.”
AGC of Alaska membership has been instrumental to Local 341’s success, Merrick said.
“AGC of Alaska contractors have benefitted the union in two key ways: providing quality, family-supporting jobs for our members and supporting our apprenticeships, which deliver opportunities for Alaskans to grow and prosper. By providing these good jobs, AGC of Alaska contractors play a critical role in providing economic security for our union members.”
Leonard Taylor, a supervisor with ASRC Civil Construction and an instructor at the Alaska Laborers Training School, says Local 341 is important to both contractors and its members.
“Not only does the union help ensure a safe working environment and a living wage for its members, but contractors benefit from trained employees,” he said.
“There wasn’t much of an apprenticeship training program when I was starting out,” Taylor recalled. “I teach grade checking, and when I was coming up, the program was two weeks. Now it’s six weeks. The training is more comprehensive, and the program is turning out better grade checkers. It’s a win for all involved.”
Laborers have achieved impressive safety records. In over 11.5 million man hours from 2010 to the present, members had a days away, restricted or transferred rate (DART) of 0.03. In that same time period, there were only two DART incidents, again, in over 11.5 million man hours. This unbeatable record alone — while members are conducting major projects on the mainline — demonstrates members’ exceptional dedication to safety.
Building on Local 341’s unbeatable safety record on Alaska’s most complex projects, Local 341 looks forward to continuing its strong partnership with contractors and working on the many new projects on the horizon. For more information about Laborers’ Local 341, including its apprenticeship training program, visit www.local341.com.
Carly Horton Stuart is a freelance writer based in Anchorage.