From the office to the outdoors – Local 49 member April Lee left her office job at United Health Group last year to pursue a career as an operating engineer.
Lee worked for United Health Group for 10 years before leaving and credits her husband, who is a member of IUOE Local 232, for encouraging her to switch professions.
“My husband is always talking highly about unions and really sees the value in them,” Lee explained. “I was getting tired of my job and one day as I was driving down the road I thought, ‘I could be an operating engineer. It looks a lot more fun and challenging.’”
Lee started inquiring about becoming a member of Local 49 and was eventually hired on by Kramer North America as a crane oiler. “I was just so in awe of the crane and the functionality of it, and of the operators themselves, how effortless they look,” Lee said. “I know it takes more work than they make it look, so I just really wanted to pursue cranes as a career after I spent the summer around them.”
Now that Lee has been a member of Local 49 for a year, she says that there is no comparison between her previous job and being an operator.
“Being in an office job can make you very lethargic and now I have much more energy. I enjoy being outside, and working with my hands is much more rewarding,” Lee explained. “I’m seeing what’s being done and getting to see the finished product and can take pride in that. With an office job, you don’t get that kind of reward, you don’t always get to see those finished products.”
“There’s also more support with being in the union, specifically more than with an office job,” she added. “In the office, it’s every man for themselves and you’re not really supporting each other, you’re just fighting to get to the top. Here, it doesn’t feel like that because everyone is trying to achieve the same goal and wants you to be the best you can be.”
Lee said another key aspect that motivated her to switch jobs was the health and retirement benefits that Local 49 offers. “The pension and health benefits are completely better than what I’ve had before,” she said.
“The health insurance with Local 49 is even better than my husband’s benefits, they cover more, have a lower deductible and are just better all around,” Lee said. “For the retirement benefits, I had a 401K with my previous company and what I made in 10 years in my 401K with that company’s match, I actually made about half of in just three months working with the union.”
Another critical part of Lee’s switch to Local 49 was the crane apprenticeship program through the Local 49 Training Center and being able to broaden her knowledge and education.
Her employer, Kramer North America, sponsored Lee to become an apprentice at the Local 49 Training Center so she could get the training she needed to eventually become a crane operator. “The training program is an outstanding program that you don’t find in other jobs,” she said.
Lee explained that becoming a crane apprentice has made her a much more confident operator.
“Some of it was more difficult than other parts, like the classroom part of it. It’s so much information, but it was very helpful and it gave me a better idea of what goes into crane operating and the mechanics of the crane,” Lee explained. “I feel that it was an extremely beneficial part of the class to take.”
Lee explained that the hands-on part of the crane apprenticeship training program made her more prepared for, and comfortable with, operating a crane on the job.
“Last summer I would jump in the cab and I would say (to the crane operator), ‘I’m not jumping in the cab without you standing there,’” Lee said. “Now I’m confident I could jump in without someone standing there telling me to do the job. I’m not intimidated anymore.”
“Ultimately my goal is to be an operator and that’s why I joined the crane apprenticeship program. I don’t expect that immediately, but the goal is to be a full-time operator,” she added.
For more stories like April’s, visit www.local49training.org under the Apprenticeship Stories section.