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

May 14, 2018

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

Member Stories

Member Stories

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Members of Local 49 on the job:

December 8, 2015