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.