Cole Uecker

Cole Uecker

Cole Uecker is a man with many interests. He is a heavy equipment operator, an educational speaker, and a North Dakota state senate candidate. He has also been a member of Local 49 for 14 years.

Before he got his start as a heavy equipment operator, Uecker spent his college days as an educational speaker on foster care.

Uecker was placed in the foster care system as a teenager and said the program completely turned his life around.

“They had a lot of programs that helped me in school, provided extracurricular activities, and then eventually offered me a full ride scholarship to college,” Uecker explained. “When I entered foster care, they told me I was the worst kid in the system, but by the time I left I turned out to be the best.”

Uecker’s first speaking engagement was in Bismarck to about 200 parents interested in foster care, and his audiences quickly grew.

“I eventually flew all over the country speaking to parents about foster care. My largest group was in Mesa, Arizona where I spoke to around 5,000 parents about how foster care can provide kids with structure and opens up so many opportunities,” he said. 

After obtaining his associates degree in welding from Bismarck College, he followed in his family’s footsteps and began a career in welding and construction.

“My grandfather and father were heavy equipment operators so I always knew I wanted to do something in construction,” Uecker said.

Uecker began his career as a welder for a gravel and recycling company, but when a dozer operator didn’t show up to work one day, he got his shot at operating.

“I did not do well at all,” Uecker laughed. “But I enjoyed it and they gave me another chance and I kept improving.”

Uecker worked his way up to becoming an excavator, until 2007 when he earned the opportunity to work as a crane oiler on a half a billion-dollar project.

Uecker had never worked as a crane oiler, but quickly found a passion for cranes.

“It was tough at first because I went from a job where I was walking 50 miles along a pipeline to not moving for 12 hours a day as a crane oiler,” he said. “So during down times I would pick up the crane manual and sit and read that or I would spend extra time waxing and polishing the crane.  The crane operator, Al Henke—now a Local 49 Business Agent—took notice and threw me in the seat one day.”

Uecker feels fortunate to have had the opportunity to operate 15 out of the 27 cranes that were on that project over two years.

“A lot of the old timers took me under their wing and taught me, and that’s just the best knowledge you can get,” Uecker said.

Uecker currently works as a crane operator for Acrotech, a subset of Northwest Contracting, where he works on a handful of challenging projects including the North Dakota State Penitentiary.

“When we first started, we would have to count the screws before putting them in. If we didn’t have the correct number, the whole job stopped because an inmate could find a screw on the ground and use it as a weapon,” Uecker explained.

“It really slowed the job down, but over time, we’ve learned a lot of new technology and different ways to build a concrete structure in a way that inmates couldn’t dig out from. We’ve made the building more secure than your average structure.” 

Uecker notes that while it’s a challenging job, he’s extremely proud to be a crane operator and calls it “the best seat in the house.”

“You can see everything from up there and you start to learn other processes that you might not have picked up from working on the ground,” he said.

Outside of his job, Uecker is also active in politics. In 2012 he ran for North Dakota State Senate in District 8.

“I started getting into politics when I started my first union job and I started really watching and following it. I would always be talking about politics on job sites until someone told me, Well, why don’t you do something about it?’ and so I said, ‘Fine, I will!’”

Uecker explained how campaigning was more difficult than he expected.

“It was a long and grueling process. I didn’t realize how hard it would be doing that with a full-time job and two kids,” Uecker said. “I was knocking door-to-door in every little town that I could, and I probably participated in about ten town parades.”

Ultimately, Uecker didn’t win, but he did have the highest democratic turnout in the district. While it was difficult, he said it was a rewarding experience.

Being a member of Local 49 has influenced many aspects of Uecker’s life. He says he’s grateful for all the opportunities Local 49 has given him.

“The security of knowing somebody has your back is one of the biggest things for me. The knowledge I’ve received, not only from other members, but everything you can learn at the Training Center is just so valuable.

For more stories like Cole’s please visit

May 25, 2018

Joe Heitkamp

Joe Heitkamp

Joe Heitkamp knew he needed a new career. He witnessed his parents struggle when they got to retirement age and they couldn’t retire. So, he sought out a career as a union heavy equipment operator and has been a member of the Local 49 for the past three years. 

“I was basically looking for a future and a solid retirement plan,” Heitkamp said, who is originally from Wyndmere, North Dakota.  The 49ers were already on his radar as he already heard of their benefits package from Local 49 business agent Nathan Brandt.

Heitkamp started his career at Northern Improvement in a gravel pit as a drag-line operator digging gravel and rock out of a lake, but he has been around heavy equipment his whole life.

“As a farm kid I had been around large pieces of equipment and had experience with operating big machinery before I even started with Northern Improvement,” Heitkamp said.

Shortly after his time with Northern Improvement, Heitkamp found a job as a leader operator on wind farms for Mortenson setting up pads for the large cranes to install the wind turbines. His first wind farm project was the Sunflower Wind Project in Hebron, North Dakota.

“It amazed me how fast those turbines would go up. I had no idea that we could put up so many of them in one day,” he said. “We put up at least four a day and we finished the project two months ahead of schedule. It was just a great experience and a great crew of guys.”

Heitkamp is currently working with Meyer Contracting as a dozer operator and recently completed a flood protection project in Oxbow, North Dakota, and is currently working in Williston, North Dakota on the new airport being built.

He says that being a part of Local 49 has shown him that no matter what project he’s worked on there’s always that sense of brotherhood.

“There’s definitely a strong brotherhood no matter what project I’m on. I love meeting new people and meeting other members of Local 49,” said Heitkamp.

Heitkamp is thankful for the Local 49 benefit plan and how it’s improved his life.

“Great wages and the great insurance for my family has been the biggest thing for me. Our insurance is second to none,” he said. “I’m just so proud to be a part of all of it.”

For more stories like Joe’s please visit

March 14, 2018

Pulling Our Weight: Building the Mankato Power Plant

Pulling Our Weight: Building the Mankato Power Plant

Members of Local 49 are once again playing an instrumental role in the construction of one of the largest projects in southwestern Minnesota.

The $300 million Southern Power project located in Mankato is a natural gas power plant that is nearly doubling in size. When completed, the plant will represent 270 megawatts of generating capacity.

The plant was originally built in 2005 and was a one steam turbine power plant. According to 13-year Local 49 member and Superintendent of the project Kris Houg, due to the inefficiency of the first steam turbine a second unit is being added, which is estimated to be completed by March 2019. 

The project is both efficient, and a huge economic boom for the Mankato area. Houg explained that the power plant’s combustion turbines make electricity by burning natural gas. Waste heat from the turbines is captured and reused to drive a separate steam turbine that produces additional electricity. Combined-cycle power plants produce high power outputs at high efficiencies and with low emissions.

“So essentially the steam power here is free,” Houg said. “They used to just vent it and the steam would go out a stack and be wasted, but now they recover the heat to make steam to power the facility.”

At the peak of the project there were nearly 20 Local 49 members working on the project.

The biggest portion of the project that Local 49 members worked on was the erection of the new facility where the second turbine will be. Local 49 members were also responsible for the dirt work part of the project.

“The biggest thing was when Vic’s (Crane Service) was here and we had a three-crane lift,” Houg said. “Some of the lifts were close to 500,000 pounds.”

Once the project is completed the plant will produce 650 megawatts and the power will be shipped across the upper Midwest. 

Members on the Project

Houg originally got his start in Local 49 working on the construction of the original Power Plant project in Mankato back in 2005 as a forklift operator. Houg returned to the Power Plant expansion project as a foreman, and was recently promoted to superintendent.

“I’ve always tried to do the best I can, and take on more responsibilities,” Houg said. “We’ve got the best group of people here that you could have, and I’m just really proud to be where I’m at and to have this opportunity.”

Twenty-year Local 49 member Leon Farrow, who is a crane operator at the Power Plant project, has extended experience on projects similar to this one. According to Farrow, this project is notable because of how smoothly and safely it has run so far.

Jordan Houg is a second-year apprentice with Local 49 working on the Power Plant project as a crane oiler. 

“I really like it out here, I work with a lot of good people and it’s exciting to be a part of something that will be here for another 30 years,” Houg said. 

Todd Palmer, a 26-year member, is a 2250 crane operator on the project

“This is only my second project like this, and so times have changed in regards to safety and crane size, but what I love most about this business is the people that I work with,” Palmer said.

For more project stories visit

March 7, 2018

Gerald Erickson

Gerald Erickson

This year Local 49 member Gerald (Gerry) Erickson reached a tremendous and rare milestone. On October 13, 2017 Erickson officially achieved his 70-year membership status – something that Local 49 Business Manager, Glen Johnson, says has only happened once in his 15-year tenure.

Erickson is from Bena, a small town in northern Minnesota that is home to about 100 residents. “If you blink your eyes you wouldn’t see it,” Erickson says.

Before becoming a member of Local 49 in 1947, Erickson served in the United States Navy during World War II. “I was in the Navy for two years on a small aircraft carrier over in the Pacific, and I was involved in five different invasions,” Erickson explains. Two of these invasions were the historic battles that took place at Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

“We listened to a lady that was broadcasting over the radio, and her name was Tokyo Rose. She told us how many suicide planes were going to be sent in the morning and again in the evening, and you could count on it. There they would be – a whole fleet of them,” Erickson says.

It was later discovered that “Tokyo Rose” was a name given by allied troops in the South Pacific during WWII to all female English-speaking radio broadcasters of Japanese propaganda. The programs were broadcast in the South Pacific and North America to demoralize allied troops and their families by emphasizing troops’ wartime difficulties and military losses.

“She would say things like think about your family at home, and she’d know names…she had a lot of information,” Erickson explains.

Erickson served as gunner on the aircraft carrier and describes one mission where the fleet of aircraft carriers and destroyers was attacked. During this mission, the carrier he was on was used as a decoy and managed to avoid massive damage. 

“They almost sunk all of us…all we had was our small carriers and destroyers and there was probably around a dozen aircraft carriers,” Erickson said. “But we went off as a kind of decoy because we had an admiral on board. So we took off and avoided most of the attack.”

After serving his two years in the Navy, Erickson returned home to Minnesota to find work. He began working in Deer River, Minnesota for Guthery Construction in 1946.

“I was first put on as an oiler for a crane, then they had me on a grease truck. One day my boss asked me if I knew how to run a scraper, and I said sure,” he said with a laugh. “That’s how I got my start in construction.”

“I didn’t know about Local 49 at first, that’s why I didn’t join in 1946,” Erickson said. “But after I joined I liked that they found the jobs for you and the wages were so much better compared to other work around…even back then.”

In 1947, Erickson was working in Buhl, Minnesota when a Local 49 business agent approached him about joining.

“I didn’t know about Local 49 at first, that’s why I didn’t join in 1946,” Erickson said. “But after I joined I liked that they found the jobs for you and the wages were so much better compared to other work around…even back then.”

Erickson said one of the first pieces of equipment he operated was called a Terra Cobra, which was a crude oil scraper. After gaining more experience, Erickson says he began operating “Super C’s”.

“The Super C’s were really wicked because they had steering clutches and you’d have to pull a steering clutch every time you wanted to change directions, depending on whether you were going up or down a hill,” Erickson explains. “There was no driving wheel, just levers, and you’d just coast along because there was no steering.”

One of the major projects Erickson worked on early in his career was the Garrison Dam in North Dakota. “I was there for two years and I operated the Terra Cobra out on that project.”

In 1949, Erickson began working for a contractor near Fargo, where he operated an electric scraper.

“They had little buttons you’d push to steer with and buttons to operate the scraper,” Erickson says. “That was new technology for its day and it was really nice.”

“I was in North Dakota for a quite a bit…see I was a beginner and they sent the beginners outward,” he laughs.

Erickson eventually returned to St. Paul in 1950, where he found a job that worked all year long. “It was a 70-hour job and we got double time back then… so I’ll tell ya, other guys wanted my job.”

Erickson stayed at that job for two years and worked for a few other contractors from 1953 through 1957. In 1957, Peter Lametti Construction Company hired Erickson on as a mechanic and he stayed there for 20 years.

“I started as a mechanic in their shop, but after two years Peter came out and told me I was his new master mechanic,” Erickson said. “I stayed there as master mechanic and I was in charge of all of the equipment in the shop.”

“Then one day he told me that I was his new superintendent,” Erickson laughs. “For a time I was overseeing the other operators, but I didn’t really like that work, and eventually returned to master mechanic.”

In 1978, Erickson left Peter Lametti Construction Company and began working at Acton Construction as a field mechanic for cranes. Through this position he was able to work all over the United States repairing cranes. Erickson ended his career with Acton when he retired in 1990.

Erickson says that he’s been proud to be a 49er throughout his life, and has even helped his son Rick Erickson become a member of Local 49.

Gerald Erickson was honored during the October 2017 Minneapolis union meeting, where he received his 70-year pin.


For more stories like Gerald’s please visit

December 13, 2017

Travis Grime

Travis Grime

From serving his country to serving those affected by Hurricane Harvey in Texas,  Local 49 member Travis Grime shows that his willingness to help people knows no bounds.

Grime grew up in a small farming community in Ohio, and has been around heavy equipment his whole life.

“My mom would be the first to tell you that I was a ‘Tonka Truck’ kid since my earliest memories,” Grime said. In addition to an early love for machinery, he had family ties to the industry. “I had a cousin that was older than me that was an operator and I would say he was my inspiration to become an operator.”

After graduating high school, Grime joined the United States Navy and was enlisted for seven years. Grime felt a true passion for serving, and after the call to action that followed September 11, 2001, he transitioned from the Navy to the Marine Corps.

“I found that the Marines were much more my type of thing… they were considerably more disciplined…and once I found out that they had a heavy equipment program that was it – I was in,” Grime said.

When Grime entered the Marine Corps he was immediately placed in their heavy equipment program. “I remember specifically telling my recruiter that if I couldn’t be a heavy equipment operator in the Marine Corps then I wasn’t going to go, and that’s exactly where he placed me,” Grime said with a laugh.

To further his experience with heavy equipment Grime became a certified Marine Corps heavy equipment operator after attending a two-month long course at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri. Grime was then deployed to Iraq for nine months, giving him the opportunity to put these skills to work.

“I was doing vehicle recovery in Iraq, and we did a lot of road building and maintenance projects all around our base,” Grime said. “If we ever had to go outside the wire we would call it – or off base – there would be people with mine sweeping equipment that go out beforehand and would determine the best course of action if they encountered any sort of situation.” 

Grime said that his heavy equipment experience in the military definitely set him up for success once he transitioned from active duty.

“As a heavy equipment operator in the military, it aligned me very well with being a union operator,” Grime said. “There’s also a lot of other veterans that I’ve worked with over the years in the field so that brotherhood that I felt when I was in the Marine Corps transferred into the union as well.”

“As a heavy equipment operator in the military, it aligned me very well with being a union operator,” Grime said. “There’s also a lot of other veterans that I’ve worked with over the years in the field so that brotherhood that I felt when I was in the Marine Corps transferred into the union as well.”

When Grime was transitioning from active duty, the oil boom in North Dakota was in full swing. In 2013 he found an advertisement in the newspaper for a heavy equipment operator, and this led him to meet with North Dakota Local 49 Business Agents Al Henke and Darrell Miller to discuss local opportunities. They welcomed him with open arms and helped him get his first job as a Local 49 heavy equipment operator.

“I got to travel all over North Dakota while I was out there,” Grime said. “I started off on a roller and one day there was a scraper guy that wasn’t there and my boss gave me a shot… within a couple days I was keeping up with guys that have been doing it for years.”

In recent years Grime has worked on multiple large projects across Minnesota, including the “Be The Match” building across from Target Field, the new Senate Office Building and the Stillwater Bridge. Grime is a certified crane operator, but also has many years of experience operating different pieces of heavy equipment. He credits his career versatility to training from the Local 49 Training Center.

“I try and attend the Training Center as often as possible for any and all classes that I think will make me more marketable,” Grime said “For example, when crane work is slow maybe I’ll go take an advanced excavator class or the sewer and water class…I’ve spent months up there. My first year I was at the Training Center for three months straight.”

Grime says that being a member of Local 49 and a skilled heavy equipment operator are qualifications that give him a tremendous amount of pride.

“We’re the most highly trained and qualified operators anywhere in the country, and it’s something that I definitely puff my chest out about,” Grime said. “I know there are other great locals out there, but we are known far and wide for being exceptional operators.”

Recently, Grime felt a similar call to action after hearing about the devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey in Texas. He knew that he wanted to help, and knew he could use his skills to bring relief to the area. He partnered with Team Rubicon—a non-profit organization that utilizes the skills of military veterans to provide immediate relief to those impacted by disasters and humanitarian crisis—to help those affected by Hurricane Harvey.

“When I went over to Rockport, Texas that was where I saw the absolute devastation…it looked like a third world country going down the highway and seeing thousands of trees that were blown over and homes damaged,” Grime said. “It was the most humbling experience of my life.” 

Grime volunteered in Texas for two weeks after Hurricane Harvey officially hit and says that there are still thousands of people who need help, as the wreckage is still evident.

“That is why I went down there, to help the people that need help the most,” Grime said. “There’s just an overwhelming need for help, but everyone that we encountered were extremely thankful of the support – I would absolutely do this again.”


For more stories like Travis’ please visit and for more information on Team Rubicon please visit

November 10, 2017

Chuck Kaufman

Chuck Kaufman

Six-year Local 49 member and long-time Iron Range resident, Chuck Kaufman, was one of the more than 100 Local 49 members that worked on the Highway 53 Bridge Relocation project – which is now officially the highest bridge in Minnesota.

Kaufman has been involved in the project since it’s inception in 2015, and will be one of the few workers that remain at the Highway 53 Bridge after the official grand opening today.

Kaufman started as a mechanic with Kiewit Infrastructure Company until he was transitioned into operating forklift. Kaufman credits his continued education at the Local 49 Training Center and a variety of certifications to his integral position on this monumental project.

“Especially when we were pouring the bridge deck up there, you just catch yourself looking down, and looking out and looking at the scenery around, going, ‘Jeez, this thing’s up in the air,'”

Read Chuck’s Quote in this story on →

 ‘Engineering marvel’: New bridge brings excitement to the Iron Range

“Especially when we were pouring the bridge deck up there, you just catch yourself looking down, and looking out and looking at the scenery around, going, ‘Jeez, this thing’s up in the air,'”

Read Chuck’s Quote in this story on →

 ‘Engineering marvel’: New bridge brings excitement to the Iron Range

“I started wrenching in the shop for Kiewit, but always kept my forklift card up to date. When work in the shop started to slow down they moved me to forklift and I’ve worked the forklift ever since,” Kaufman said.

As a forklift operator Kaufman loaded and unloaded various materials that were used to build the bridge, while also working on a few specialty projects. Throughout the project, Kaufman operated a Bidwell roller, which smoothed down the concrete on each side of the bridge.

“There’s a lot to watch when operating a Bidwell roller, because you have to pay attention to the pitch (angle) of the slope in the road and ensure it’s right. While doing this you must also keep an eye out for the laborers and cement finishers who are working on it with you,” Kaufman said.

Kaufman was also responsible for setting the barrier fence across the bridge. This particular job included installing the last ornamental rail to go on the bridge with the ironworkers.

“We had to put up a bridge-length fence on the side of the bike path so it provides protection for walkers, snowmobiles and bikers,” Kaufman said.

All in all, Kaufman affirms the project ran smoothly from start to finish, but maintained a very fast pace.

“The project had a much faster pace than many of the projects I have worked on, but from my perspective the planning was done very carefully and efficiently,” Kaufman said. “The Highway 53 Bridge Relocation project was very fun to work on and I wish it didn’t have to end so soon.”

For the next month, Kaufman will continue to work as part of the loading and packing up crew at the Highway 53 Bridge.


For more stories like Chuck’s visit

September 15, 2017

April Lee

April Lee

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 under the Apprenticeship Stories section.

June 23, 2017

Al Gilbertson

Al Gilbertson

Al Gilbertson, an employee of Vic’s Cranes & Heavy Haul Inc., is currently the sole operator for the largest crawler crane in Minnesota. As a 13-year member of Local 49, Gilbertson has had experience operating different types of cranes and has dedicated his 13-year career as a member of Local 49 to learning all he can about these machines. “I went through all of the Local 49 Training Center’s crane classes, and took all of those opportunities and capitalized on them,” Gilbertson said.

Right out of high school Gilbertson operated some smaller hydraulic cranes, but for most of his time prior to operating cranes he was a residential carpenter. “I did carpentry for a number of years but knew I wanted to get back into the crane industry and have a career with that,” he said.

Gilbertson re-entered the rental crane industry working for Mortenson to install wind turbines.

“I took the opportunity to chase wind turbines all around the country for seven years, and with putting them up they obviously use rather large (crane) rigs and that’s what got me into large crawler cranes,” Gilbertson explained. “So, just being on that side of it and working my way up from the smaller rigs into the larger rigs is how I got my crawler crane experience.”

After his time at Mortenson, Gilbertson heard of an opportunity at Vic’s Cranes, which was closer to home. “At that time I was getting kind of tired of traveling across the country putting up wind turbines, so it just happened to work out perfectly that they were looking for help and I was looking to stay home,” he said. “I came on board officially in 2013 and they’ve kept me busy ever since.”

Once Vic’s Cranes purchased what is now the largest crawler crane in Minnesota in the summer of 2015, the company immediately asked Gilbertson if he would be interested in operating it, which he gladly accepted.

Gilbertson also mentioned that he is a second-generation member of Local 49 – with a twist. “In 2006 I was working at a company that needed a forklift operator, so I had called the business agent that got me in Local 49 in 2004 and asked if that was the kind of job my dad could do with his kind of experience. So actually, my dad got in Local 49 after me, which the business agent told me was really rare,” he said with a laugh.

“At the time he was partially retired, but he was getting bored so he came out to help where I was working and is now happily retired again as of last year,” Gilbertson added.

Since being the sole operator of that crane Gilbertson has been on many unique jobs. At the end of May he was in Rochester installing a new boiler for Seneca Foods. “They had to set 90,000 pounds and 280 feet into the building. There were too many obstructions in the way to try and bring it in from the outside, so they got a hold of us to bring it in through the roof,” he explained.

According to Gilbertson, one of the heaviest sets that he’s done was a job in East Dubuque, Illinois setting an ammonia vessel that weighed three-quarters of a million pounds. Gilbertson said that a lot of the jobs that he’s called on to do are for instances where it’s an extremely heavy load that needs to go a far distance.

Gilbertson didn’t get to where he is today all on his own; he credits his fellow Local 49 members for helping him along the way.

“My experience with Local 49 has been great. The guys that I worked with when I first got into the crane industry were absolutely instrumental in getting me where I am today,” Gilbertson explained. “I was very fortunate to make friends with some very good operators who taught me the right things along the way – it’s because of them that I am where I am today.”

He added that during his time installing wind turbines around the country he knew that Local 49 operators were the best operators nationwide. “When you meet a 49er or call a 49er out to a job, they’re well versed and they understand their job – you don’t find that with a lot of the other locals.”

June 16, 2017

John Korzan

John Korzan

John Korzan of Kimball, South Dakota was a member of Local 49 for nearly 40 years before retiring in 2014. Korzan’s career as an operator has taken him all over the country – even as far as Maui and the big island of Hawaii.

In 1975 Korzan started his career driving truck for Don Jerke Construction in Sioux Falls, and eventually worked his way up to running crane for Jerke Construction until 1996. In 2000, Korzan began working for Mortenson and installed wind turbines all over the country. One of his more memorable projects installing wind turbines was a job that led him to the island of Maui.

“We were installing a wind turbine on top of a mountain, and every piece had to be hauled up this mountain by truck,” Korzan said. “The cells that had to be hauled up were 128,000 pounds.” Korzan recalled that at one point the transmission went out in the truck because the weight of the cells was so heavy. “Eventually we had to use a loader and put a large rock in the bucket and pull up the pieces to install this wind turbine.”

Korzan worked in Maui for six months completing the installation of the wind turbine, and he said what made the job particularly memorable was the time of year he was working. “We were working during whale season so you’d look off the side of this mountain and could see all of the whales come in with their babies,” Korzan said. “The whales looked like big boats coming out of the water.”

Korzan also worked on a three month long project on the big island of Hawaii.

“What happened in Hawaii was a guy boomed his crane out too far and he collapsed the boom so Mortenson sent me out there to put it back together,” he said.

Korzan described another memorable project, which was being a part of the construction of the University of South Dakota Dome.

“Before we installed the steel roof they had an air roof, but it kept tearing so the school decided to put a permanent steel roof on top of the dome,” Korzan said. “The roof is about 100 ft. wide, so one crane wasn’t enough to install the roof. They needed two cranes and then those two cranes would meet in the middle to install the steel roof of the dome,” Korzan said.

Korzan says he’s always been interested operating cranes, and liked the variety of the job. “It’s something different all the time as a crane operator.”

Since retiring three years ago, Korzan says he has one piece of advice for younger members: Stay in the union. “I definitely couldn’t retire if I would have had to pay more for my health insurance, “Korzan said. “I’m fortunate enough where I could afford to retire early because I’ve had continuous service with the union.”

Due to his continuous service with Local 49, Korzan obtained the maximum subsidy off of his health insurance premium. Even though Korzan is grateful for his decision now, he reflected on when work was short in the 1970s.

“A lot of people in the late 1970s took a withdrawal because times were tough, but you got to take the good with the bad and I’m glad I did. That’s what I tell people now is to stay with Local 49,” Korzan said.

Now that Korzan is retired, he enjoys spending his free time with his family, and exploring his hobbies. “My wife and I do a little traveling, and I’ve been buying hot rod cars and fixing them up…I keep busy,” Korzan said with a laugh.

For more stories like John’s visit the Members at Work section at

May 24, 2017

Fritz Panek

Fritz Panek

Fritz Panek has more than 40 years experience in the construction industry before being brought on part-time as the large heavy equipment instructor at the Operating Engineers Local 49 Training Center. “I can run any piece of equipment when it comes to dirt work,” said Panek.

Fritz Panek - Local49

Panek grew up on a dairy farm, and graduated from high school in 1973. Panek said the day after he graduated he was immediately on a push-cat dozer. “My dad had a little construction company with a couple of dozers and scrapers so I went to work for him, and worked for him for about seven years,” Panek said.

In April of 1980 is when Panek got his first chance to work with a union contractor. “I worked for Blatner where I worked on (Interstate Highway) I35 East on Cedar Avenue, but I also worked all over the country for them.”

In 1988 Panek took a career leap and started his own business with his three brothers. “I felt there was a niche for what I was going to be doing, and I had a gravel pit on my own farm so I didn’t have to buy gravel, which helped me a lot to get started,” he said about starting his own business. “I started out with just a dump truck and a loader, and then later down the line I invested in a crusher, conveyors and excavators,” Panek continued.

Panek eventually sold his business in 2005 to a local contractor, and went into semi-retirement until 2009 when the health insurance market changed, and his wife Mary switched careers. “It was in 2009 when the health insurance market got out of hand when I went back into the union to become an operator,” stated Panek. “Local 49 has way better health insurance than just about anybody; we get everything covered.”

Panek worked for Kuechle Underground out of Kimball, MN for a few years then worked for Landwehr and Hardrives before being presented with the offer of becoming a part time instructor at the Local 49 Training Center. “It’s very rewarding that you get to help people advance in their training and career,” Panek said of the opportunity.

Panek currently teaches large heavy equipment classes, but says his favorite is the loaders. “I have over 35 years of experience with loaders so I like to think I know what I’m talking about,” Panek said with a laugh.

Panek says he stresses to his classes the importance of being involved in the union and knowing the issues that affect them and their work. “I’ve been way more involved than when I was younger, and I do preach about that during my classes,” Panek said. “I keep them up to date with what’s going on with Right to Work issues and stuff on the (Local 49) website.”

Panek also educates members on the importance of knowing about all of the benefits that are available to them and their family. “I talk to them about the insurance and about the health meetings,” said Panek. “I went to my first one in 2010, and I didn’t know half of the stuff we had, so I try to educate them about all of the information.”

Panek particularly encourages the younger members about how being in Local 49 can not only lead you to a good job, but a long-lasting career. “There are always roads that are going to need to be built and structures to put up, so if you’re willing to put in the time and work, this is a great and rewarding career.”

For more stories like Fritz’s visit

March 28, 2017

Eric Richardson

Eric Richardson

Eric Richardson began his next journey as a Pipeline worker on the Dakota Access Pipeline and a member of Local 49 after 24 years of experience in the United States Army. Richardson, who grew up in Wyoming, but now lives in Cloquet, MN, joined the Army in 1987.

“For my first two years in the Army I was stationed in Germany, and then came back to Fort Hood, Texas where I was then deployed to Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm,” Richardson said. After returning to the U.S. Richardson was a part of the counter drug missions between the U.S. and Mexican border. “I was responsible for tracking drugs coming across the border, and then later on I actually went back as a special ops mission planner, and I planned all of those missions,” Richardson said about the drug missions.

In 2004 Richardson was deployed to Iraq where he ran security force for combat support convoys. Richardson returned to the United States for a short time before deploying again to Iraq from 2006-2008. “That was a 15 month deployment, and that was a tough one…I think we lost about 30 some people during that deployment,” Richardson recalled.

When Richardson returned to the states he went to training to become a Sergeant in Fort Jackson, South Carolina and deployed to Afghanistan in 2010-2011. After he completed his mission in Afghanistan, Richardson decided it was time to retire from the military.

From there he used his military experience for his next job as a personal security professional for the United States Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan. “We provided diplomatic security for chief personnel in Kabul, Afghanistan, and I did that for nearly five years,” stated Richardson. “I would spend 105 days there, and then return to the U.S. for 35 days…you weren’t living in the best conditions, but it was a step above being deployed in the Army,” he added.

After his time doing security detail, Richardson decided it was time to come home for good, and find a job that is more local. Joe Chastan, the Local 49 Business Agent out of Bagley, MN, helped Richardson find his first job and helped him become a member of Local 49. “Joe gave me an opportunity to be an oiler on the (Dakota Access) Pipeline,” Richardson said of the new opportunity. “I thought it was fantastic and it was interesting to see how that pipe went into the ground,” he continued. “I had a really good business agent, good steward and great foremen up there that taught me a lot.”

Richardson became a member of Local 49 in June 2016, and worked on Spread 7 of the Pipeline, which is located in Williston and Watford, North Dakota. That part of the Pipeline work wrapped up in November 2016.

During the off-season, Richardson said he is taking full advantage of the Operating Engineers Local 49 Training Center. “I took the OSHA 30 class, two pipeline horizontal directional drilling classes, a side boom class, and then I also took the dozer and excavator class,” Richardson said. “I thought the Training Center was great, and the instructors are phenomenal; I can’t say one bad thing about any of the training there,” Richardson continued.

While Richardson hasn’t been a member of Local 49 for very long, he said he is excited about the opportunities Local 49 has already given him. “The union has got great benefits, great opportunities and it’s a way for me to travel around the United States.”

For more stories like Eric’s visit the Members At Work tab on


March 17, 2017

Mark Doble

Mark Doble

Mark Doble, a two year member of Local 49, has made a difference in his local community and beyond. He has impacted communities across the country by volunteering for the Red Cross for the past 11 years and being deployed to 22 different disasters.

Doble has worked for the Metropolitan Council (MET Council) as a wastewater treatment operator at the Seneca Plant in Eagan for the past four years. Doble was formerly a member of Local 49’s sister Local – Local 35 – before they merged with Local 49 two years ago.

Being a union operator is something Doble says has been in the family for generations.

“I am a fourth generation union operator, and my grandfather helped start Local 35,” Doble said.

Now being a part of Local 49, he said it is a unique experience going from a small local to one of the largest unions in the state of Minnesota.

“It’s great having a lot of brothers and sisters,” Doble said. “I try to stay involved and attend every meeting, and last year I was also involved in the Day at the Capitol.”

Doble originally obtained his culinary degree. Prior to his time at the MET Council, he was a sous-chef at Target Field’s Champion’s Club restaurant, which is also a union restaurant.

“Being from a union family has had a very strong influence in my life, and I try my best to support the union as much as I can,” Doble said. “It’s part of the reason I got the job at Target Field because I knew it was union and I try to stay within the union with the jobs I’ve had.”

Being a part of the union is not the only passion Doble has, volunteering for the Red Cross has taken him across the country helping thousands of people in need. Doble’s first experience volunteering for the Red Cross was responding to the 2007 Interstate-35W Bridge collapse.

“The I-35W Bridge collapse was my very first response, and it was a very traumatic experience,” Doble stated. “But we (Red Cross) have a great support system around us.”

Doble said one of the more memorable volunteer experiences he had was responding to the recent Flint, Michigan water crisis.

“I was senior leadership during this time and I was responsible for planning how we distributed water to the residents of Flint,” he said.

Doble estimated that there was more than a million gallons of water to be distributed, and they are still giving out water to this day.

“If we weren’t there to help the people in those communities, they would have never gotten water,” Doble said. “There was such a distrust there that certain communities would only take water from the Red Cross and no one else.”

In addition to the Flint, Michigan water crisis, Doble responded to the 2010 Memphis, Tennessee flood, which flooded the Grand Ole Opry. He was in charge of distributing food during that disaster.

2010 was a memorable year for Doble as he was the recipient of the highly distinguished Red Cross Volunteer of the Year award and through that award he met President Obama.

“I really feel that I need to give back to my community, and it’s an important part of being a member of a community,” Doble stated.

Doble has no plans of stopping his volunteering, and was even asked to help with the recent Georgia floods, but due to timing was unable to.

“When I first joined the Red Cross I was never a hugger, well I became one again because that’s just what it does to you,” Doble said with a laugh.

For more stories on members of Local 49 please visit

February 3, 2017

Akeethia Brown

Akeethia Brown

“My life literally did a complete flip flop, and it’s been a blessing,” said Akeethia Brown, a one-year member of Local 49.

Brown, who currently works for Lunda Construction Company as a crane operator, began her interest in heavy equipment when she was working part time in the maintenance department at Summit Academy.

“I would watch all of these women enter into the program and graduate, and when you’re working in maintenance you kind of get to eavesdrop into the classrooms and learn a lot,” she said.

“So one day I was listening in on the heavy equipment class, and I got to see what they did,” she added.

Brown eventually entered into the program, graduated and was hired on with Lunda shortly after graduation.

Brown described her first day working as a crane operator “overwhelming, but exciting.”

“My first day out here I felt like a little bug…Everything was so different, and it was my first time involved in anything construction related,” she said, “But everyone here is so helpful and encouraging.”

Brown said what she loves most about the job is how much she gets to learn, and grow her skill set as a crane operator.

“When I go home at night I can say that I’ve at least learned three new things that day,” she said, “To me, that’s what life is about.”

Brown also is excited about the opportunity to take more classes at the Training Center.

“I plan on taking as many classes as I can at the Training Center,” she said.

Since the apprenticeship program can be spread out over the four years, and is very adaptable to member’s schedules, Brown said it still takes commitment to finish.

“There’s a lot of certifications, and it definitely takes dedication,” she said.

Brown said her main inspiration for beginning her career as a heavy equipment operator is her daughter, Samari, and being able to provide for her.

“I walked into my daughter’s classroom one day, and all of her friends who are little girls came out to me and we’re so excited and said, ‘Wow! That’s so cool your mom is in construction!’”

“So it’s not only cool that I’m inspiring myself, but I can inspire younger girls to show them that they can be in this field,” Brown said.

Brown said that the health care benefits through the Operating Engineers Local 49 Health and Welfare Fund has also greatly improved her family’s quality of life.

“The health care with the union (Local 49) it’s amazing,” she said.

When Brown compares her life to what it was even just a year ago to what it is like now, she said that her life has changed dramatically for the better.

“Sometimes I really feel like this is a dream, I like everything I’m doing out here in the field, and as long as I enjoy what I’m doing that’s really all that matters at the end of the day,” Brown said.

December 16, 2016

Don Raway

Don Raway

Don Raway, an eight-year member of Local 49, has seen a lot working as a heavy equipment operator for the St. Paul Regional Water Services.

As winter approaches, this becomes Ranway’s busy season, as water mains tend to bust in the dead of winter.

“Most of St. Paul’s underground infrastructure is from the late 1800’s, so when it gets below freezing water mains can break,” Raway said.

Raway explained that since water mains are usually the deepest lines, other than sewer lines, it presents particularly difficult challenges to try and dig to fix the broken mains.

“There’s not much room in downtown St. Paul, and it’s time consuming to just try and control the main…we’ll spend hours and hours scraping ice just to get the equipment there so the locators can come in,” he said.

“There’s quite a few hours spent doing work before we can come in and fix anything,” Raway added.

Raway recalled one water main break in particular where the ice was four to six inches high and stretched out curb to curb across the street.

“We loaded out ice in tandems just so we could get to the street,” Raway said.

Prior to his time with the St. Paul Regional Water Services, Raway worked for the St. Paul Parks & Recreation Department as the assistant grounds keeper at Midway Stadium – home of the St. Paul Saints.

“When I started that field was mainly built for VFW and legion teams where you might see a couple hundred people there on a busy day,” Raway said. “As the Saints popularity grew, that all changed.”

What began as a fairly low key job from Raway as the assistant grounds keeper, turned into something much more high profile.

“All of the changes kind of blindsided everyone…We would average over 6,000 people a night in a facility that was built for maybe 3,000 people,” Raway said.

After leaving the Parks department and starting with the St Paul Regional Water Services, Raway said he always gravitated toward heavy equipment.

“It’s something I had a little bit of experience with when I was in the Parks Department, but even since I was a little boy it was always something I gravitated to,” Raway said.

Raway even advocated that his department receive training at the Operating Engineers Local 49 Training Center.

“Myself and my business agent Mark Pothen worked with the city to have our training facilitated through the (Local 49) Training Center,” Raway said.

Raway explained that the city would not allow employees to travel down to the Training Center for training, but with the efforts from Raway and Business Agent Mark Pothen, the city agreed to have the instructors and equipment from the Training be brought to them.

“We seemed to get much more competent heavy equipment operators, and we received much better training than in previous years,” he added.

Raway is also very active in his community as the youth football coach for the past five years, and a member of the Forest Lake Wrestling Booster Club for the past four years.

“I’m very passionate about it, and it’s something I just love to do,” he said.

Raway is equally involved within Local 49 outside of being a member, as he’s been a Local 49 Steward for the past five years.

Raway said he is very grateful for Local 49, and for the training he received from the Local 49 Training Center.

IUOE Local 49 represents more than 2,200 public sector members throughout the state. The individual cities and counties Local 49 represents can be found on the Member’s Only section of our website. If you are an active member of Local 49 please visit and register to have access.


November 28, 2016

Lisa Klankowski

Lisa Klankowski

Lisa Klankowski, a five-year member of Local 49 and current apprentice at the Operating Engineers Local 49 Training Center, has worked her way up from operating small equipment doing dirt work to now operating cranes at the St. Croix Crossing Bridge project for Lunda Construction Co.

However, prior to her time as a heavy equipment operator, she said her life was much different.

“I was working in a call center and I absolutely despised it,” she said.

That all changed when five years ago she met Rochester business agent Clayton Johnson, and talked to him about some possible career opportunities.

“I told him I hate office jobs and to give me a call if he had any openings,” Klankowski said. “That spring he called me, and I started working for Hoffman Construction down in Plainview (Minnesota).”

Klankowski said once she landed her first job, she then started going up to the Training Center and taking as many classes as she could.

After being on a jobsite for a couple years, she took interest in operating cranes and decided to pursue it.

“At that time I was still doing dirt work, and I didn’t start the cranes until a year or two into the dirt program,” she said.

“I like having a challenge, and with a crane it’s a daily challenge,” she added.

As far as being an apprentice, and being new to operating cranes, Klankowski said it can be intimidating at first.

“You walk in and just think, I don’t know anything,” she said. We do a few weeks of schooling beforehand, but it’s a whole new world on the job site.”

Klankowski said the training she received at the Training Center was “awesome”, and liked that the instructors can work with all skill levels.

“You go up to the Training Center and all of the teachers are so knowledgeable, and they can kind of gauge you in your own skill level,” she said.

“You have people (apprentices) up there that are lower in skill level, and some are up higher, but the instructors are great with adjusting to that,” she added.

In addition to great training, Klankowski said the Training Center also helps apprentices find jobs.

“Then, they get you out to jobs where there is so much going on, and so much opportunity for moving up in the world,” she said.

Klankowski said she isn’t stopping her training as she continues through the apprenticeship program with Local 49 Training Center, and soon will be graduating from the apprenticeship program.


“It’s all about paying attention, and soaking up as much information as you can,” she said.


For more information on the Operating Engineers Local 49 Apprenticeship program please visit

November 16, 2016

Chris Rieck

Chris Rieck

Thirty-year Local 49 member, Chris Rieck, said he always knew, even as a kid, that he wanted to operate heavy equipment.

Chris Rieck

Rieck of Prior Lake, Minnesota, is currently working for Lunda Construction at the new St. Croix River Crossing Bridge project as a crane operator, but has decades of experience in the heavy equipment industry.

Rieck first began his career in vocational school focusing on heavy equipment, and gained employment right out school at Prior Aggregate in the gravel pits.

“At Prior Aggregate I concentrated on cranes and learned how to operate a drag line, but they also had me in a front end loader and a backhoe,” he said.

“It was a fun playground if that’s what you want to call it,” he laughed. “But I learned a lot, and it (Prior Aggregate) taught me well.”

After his time at Prior Aggregate, Rieck then spent some time at Truck Crane Service, and then moved onto working on the railroad for ten years as a locomotive engineer.

“I got to play with different types of equipment, locomotives and cranes,” Rieck said.

After spending ten years working for the railroad, Rieck went back to Truck Crane Service and began working on wind farms and wind towers operating various types of cranes. He also has experience working in refineries operating a large hydro.

Now working on the new St. Croix Bridge, it’s Rieck’s first bridge project. So far, he said, it’s been challenging, but he’s learning a lot.

“It’s been challenging because every pic I land is completely blind,” he said. “So, for example, every time I pick up a bundle of rebar to place on top of the bridge deck, I cannot see it.”

“Everything is done by radio communication, so I have a lot of trust in the person that’s giving the signals, and the person on the radio,” he added.

Rieck said to counteract the fact that he cannot see; he built his own remote wireless camera for his cab so he can see.

“I know they sell those kind of cameras, but they’re very expensive, so I built my own.”

“It was fun for me, helps me do my job, and my company loves it because it makes things safer,” Rieck said.

Rieck recalls that while working on the bridge, he also had the opportunity to operate a crane out on one of the floating barges.

“That was a very interesting experience because the barge will move, and you slowly have to compensate for that movement,” he said.

While work on the bridge will continue until the fall of 2017, Rieck comments that “the heavy lifting” part of the project is complete.

“The precast segments in the water are all set, and the segments that connect the bridge are all installed,” he said.

Rieck said that working on the St. Croix Bridge, and working for Lunda, has been a great experience.

“It’s strange to drive to the same place for two and a half years and work six days a week because I’m used to people renting out the crane, and you just go with the crane,” Rieck said.

“But since Lunda owns their own cranes you just stay there… Working for Lunda and everyone there has been great.”

Rieck has enjoyed being a member of Local 49, and takes advantage of the CCO certification class at the Local 49 Training Center for cranes.

“The Training Center is wonderful, and actually, a mechanic from Lunda has just been hired up there as an instructor,” Rieck said.

Rieck and his wife Ellen also had positive comments regarding the Operating Engineers Local 49 Health and Welfare Fund.

Ellen, who has worked in the health care industry for 15 years, said, “the insurance through Local 49 is the absolute best.”

“I have people within my own company say you’ll never have benefits as good as the 49ers,” she said. “We’ve always had this insurance, and it’s never failed us.”

Throughout his 30 years as a member of Local 49, Rieck has made many friendships, and considers it a family of engineers.

“I know they always have our back, and they stand up for us,” Rieck said.

Rieck also wanted to say a special thank you to his business agents.

“I just want to say thank you to Tim (Olson) and York (Magee), they have really helped me out a lot and I appreciate it,” he said.

November 14, 2016

Mike Holden

Mike Holden

Mike Holden, a 40-year member of Local 49, is running for re-election for school board in Independent School District 361 International Falls.

As the current incumbent, and vice chairman of the school board, Holden said he is very passionate about his service on the school board, and is very proud of his accomplishments during his four-year term.

During his last campaign, Holden said one of his main goals was to change the board structure by adding a member to prevent tie votes.

“It’s important for the future of the district to have a seventh member to break the tie when it’s needed,” he said. “We put out a vote to the district, which passed, so beginning Jan. 1, 2017 we will have a seventh board member.”

Holden also noted that unifying the school board was another big priority during his first term, and he believes the school board is in a much better place.

“I love people, and I like working to have peace in the family – as they say – I worked hard to unify the school board, and now we’re getting along really well,” Holden said.

Looking ahead, Holden wants to focus on infrastructure, economics and student retention in the next four years, if elected.

“I want to see our school stay financially above water, and not dip into our reserves,” Holden said. “That way we can focus on infrastructure and student retention.”

Holden has already led the district in one main infrastructure project to improve the school. The current board approved the installation of an elevator in the school’s arena to make sure people who are disabled have access to the concessions area.

“I want to continue to do things like that, by helping the people in our district, and our students” he said.

Student retention will also be key for Holden in the next four years, if elected.

We’ve found in open enrollment, kids appear to float to other schools, but we’ve been working hard try to retain our students,” Holden said.

Overall, Holden hopes he can continue to serve on the school board, and better his community.

“I love the teachers, the parents, and the rest of staff,” Holden said. “I love working with the kids – they’re the future of the country – but it’s also been great working with the employees of the school district…I hope I can continue to do that.”

Holden said he is still out campaigning and will continue to make the rounds in his community and door-knock.

“I’ve hit a big percentage of the school district area, we’re a huge district so I’ve been to a lot of doors, but I like talking to people so I enjoy it,” Holden said.

Now retired, Holden said that when he’s out talking to people in the district, he loves talking about his time as a member of Local 49.

For 40 years Holden was the City of International Falls’ master electrician, and served as a Local 49 steward three different times during the course of his career.

“People usually wonder how an electrician can be a 49er, but part of my job was working with electrical boom work, and trenching, so I was using heavy equipment,” Holden said.

When asked about his time as a member of Local 49, Holden simply said, “I absolutely love my union.”

“I had great business agents, and actually all of the business agents I had through the years came to my retirement party…I was pretty excited when they all showed up,” he added.

Holden said that his leadership experience in his career, his time as a union steward and his proven experience as vice chairman on the school board for the last four years will make him successful in serving the school district for another four years.


October 19, 2016

Geoff Movold

Geoff Movold

“I am an operator, and I know every aspect of what we do,” said Geoff Movold.

Geoff Movold, of Fargo, North Dakota, has been a member of Local 49 for more than 10 years, and has worked as an operator at Northern Improvement for the past 24 years.

During Movold’s 24 years with Northern Improvement, he has operated blades, dozers, excavators, and even has crane-operating experience.

“The opportunities that have been there for me have been huge,” he said. “I know every aspect of what we do and spent many hours to do it, and have that under my belt. I am a true operator,” he added.

Even though Movold says that he may not have worked on “big ticket” projects, every project he has worked on has taught him something.

For Movold, being an operator not only allows him to operate different kinds of pieces of equipment, it also allows him to be creative with his work. “Every project has challenged me to the point where I’ve gained something,” he said.

“Some people get to be creative in certain mediums, I get to work with the earth and get to make some pretty cool things,” he said.

Even though Movold has operated various types of equipment, he says that he is most passionate about operating excavators.

“It’s not just about a loading machine, I’ve done so many projects with it and I’m very passionate about it,” he said.

Movold is so passionate about operating excavators that last year he became an excavator instructor at the Operating Engineers Local 49 Training Center.

“I had an opportunity to either be a heavy equipment instructor at the Training Center or an excavator instructor, so of course I chose the excavator,” he laughed.

Last year was his first year as an instructor, and he is eagerly waiting for this year’s training classes to gear up.

“The coolest thing is how many people do take advantage of the Training Center, and that’s a great sign,” Movold said.

Movold originally took a couple classes at Local 49’s old Training Center previously located in Rosemount, Minnesota, but says the Training Center in Hinckley has transformed.

“There’s a machine for everyone, and the instructors are really there for you,” he said. “The equipment you get to run, use and train with is exactly what you’re going to run in the field so take as many classes as you can.”

Movold said he really encourages younger operators who are just starting their career to be more involved, and take advantage of the Training Center.

“I don’t have anything to compare it with…Local 49 put a hundred percent into that Training Center, and into its own members…that seems unheard of,” he said.

As an instructor, Movold always tells his students’ one piece of advice, “always be prepared for that opportunity.”

“In one week I can’t teach you how to be an expert excavator operator, but when you’re on the job, let’s say as a skid steer operator, and your boss asks you if you can run that excavator to just load a couple of trucks, you can,” Movold said.

“You’ve now just prepared for an opportunity you might not have had, and you succeeded… you never know what’s coming, but if you prepare, those prospects for employability become much greater.”

In addition to being an instructor at the Training Center, Movold said he has been even more involved with Local 49, and says it has been a positive experience.

“Once I got involved I felt like I belonged, once I felt like I belonged it took on something greater than just me,” Movold said. “That has completely changed my perspective…getting involved was sort of a stepping stone.”

Movold also credits his business agent, Nathan Brandt, and all of the instructors at Local 49’s Training Center for getting more involved within the union.

“The more connections I get within the union, the bond gets greater, and you become proactive and become more informed, and aware of things,” Movold said.

Movold encourages younger members to get involved, and to take that first step.

“Get involved, it just takes that first step that you have to take, but whether it’s really small, just take that leap, and make yourself as employable as possible,” Movold said.


September 29, 2016

Kat Ertter

Kat Ertter

“I moved from California to the oil fields in North Dakota and four days later I got my first job in the industry,” said Ertter, who is a three-year member of Local 49.

Ertter, a UCLA graduate, started her career as a social worker in her home state of California, but then the recession hit.

“The recession hit California really hard, and eventually I knew I had to do something else,” Ertter said.

In 2012, Ertter heard of the big oil boom in North Dakota, and decided to set her sights on a career in North Dakota.

“I thought after I moved there I would find a job as a waitress or something, but two days after I moved I got my first job operating a ten ton roller,” Ertter said. “So it kind of just fell into my lap.”

Ertter worked for three different contractors over the course of two years before becoming a member of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 49.

“I wanted a union job because I wanted to keep my same benefits instead of skipping around from job to job and having different benefits,” Ertter said.

Having representation and access to training also impacted her decision to become a member of Local 49.

“I had a really great relationship with all three of my previous employers, but I felt like there wasn’t any protection, and I (also) knew joining the union there would be training,” Ertter said.

Local 49 Mandan, N.D., business agent Darrell Miller, soon recruited Ertter.

“Darrell was having an open house trying to recruit high school kids actually,” Ertter said. “I saw the advertisement and just decided to send my resume – I got a call the very next morning.”

After becoming a member in 2014, Ertter began working for Ames Construction where she said it felt like “family.”

“I became so tight with my crew at Ames, and we are still close to this day,” Ertter said. “We really were a family.”

Currently, Ertter works for Enebak Construction where she operates a 627E scraper, affectionately known as Thelma Jane Louise.

“I told a mechanic I work with that if you name your equipment, the better they get taken care of,” she laughed.

Since moving to Farmington, Minnesota in 2015 she has became very involved at Local 49, and attends membership meetings regularly.

“For me, attending meetings is vital,” she said. “It’s the way I get job leads, find out about new classes at the Training Center, learn about the issues facing us (Local 49), and it’s a great way to network.”

Ertter is also involved in MNtradeswomen, and is building her network with women in the trades.

“I do know a lot of women in the other trades, and have attended events with them,” Ertter said. “I think that’s important.”

Ertter is also very involved at Local 49’s Training Center, and makes sure during the off-season she’s signed up for classes to continue her education.

“The Training Center is invaluable,” Ertter said.

So far, Ertter has taken classes in operating dozers, the large equipment class, the small equipment class, excavator class, and even a welding class. Her next goal is to master operating an excavator.

“I have about 180 hours on an excavator, so I feel with one or two more winters at the Training Center I’ll feel more confident,” Ertter said.

Even though Ertter began her career as a social worker, she says being an operator is the best job she’s ever had.

“The benefits and pay my college career would have paid can’t compare to what I get now as an operator,” she said.

Her advice to those thinking of switching careers is “be willing to learn.”

“Don’t be afraid to ask for help, and recognize that you can always improve on something,” Ertter said.

As for being a female in the trades industry, Ertter says, “It may seem impossible – but it’s not.”

“Don’t be afraid or get discouraged, we’re all in this together,” she said.


August 25, 2016


Local 49 member running for school board in district 196

Current Local 49 member Craig Angrimson is running for school board in district 196, which represents Rosemount, Apple Valley and Eagan. The election will be taking place on Tuesday, August 9th.

Angrimson, who was also recently appointed to the Legislative Advisory Council for ISD 196, said his passion with the district started early when his daughter was attending school.

“My daughter was an international adoption…it was a real struggle bringing her up to speed,” Angrimson said. “But because of the good teachers in our district she eventually became student of the year, and now she received a 3.9 (GPA) her first year at Mankato State University.”

Angrimson said that him running for school board is his way of giving back to the district that gave him and his family so much.

“It’s my duty…my daughter and family got such good things from the district,” Angrimson said. “I’m a good leader, good decision maker and I want to give back to my district.”

Angrimson already has years of experience helping the district. He has been involved with many activities at Eastview High School in Apple Valley, including running security for their annual marching band festival, and was chair on the senior graduation night where more than 400 seniors attended.

Currently Angrimson is a Business Unit Coordinator for the Metropolitan Council, and has had that position for ten years. He is also a member of the St. Paul Labor Federation, and previously was the president of IUOE Local 35.

“I’ve been in some type of leadership role my whole life …people have always looked up to me for leadership and guidance,” he said.

If elected, Angrimson said he has some definite goals he would like to accomplish throughout his potential three-year term.

First and foremost is narrowing the achievement gap, which Angrimson said he has already started to reach out to minority groups within the community to listen to their needs and create solutions.

“We currently do have some programs out there, but there are definitely more programs we can start and things we can do,” he said.

Angrimson would also like to put in a program to entice high school students to receive a teaching degree from an area university or college with the hopes that those students would return to the district to teach.

“I’d put in place some sort of outreach program with area and border colleges,” he said. “We would start small and then outreach more when this takes off.”

Angrimson would also like to push back the start time at the high school, which he said is something the school board has talked about on and off for years. Currently, classes start at 7:25 a.m., Angrimson would like to make the start time 8:25 a.m., and is working on the research to back this decision.

“We have kids that are inexperienced drivers, driving tired…it’s dangerous,” he said.

Angrimson said that there are some bussing details that may affect elementary students that need to be worked out, but that the late start time has proven to be successful in eight other districts in the area.

“If I’m voted in, I’ll spearhead this campaign and do more research to bring back to the board and (potentially) set up a panel,” Angrimson said.


July 31, 2016