Hello! My name is Mary and I am a first year apprentice with Local 26. The last 7 months of my life (which could also be classified as the first 7 months of the rest of my life), have been an awesome ride.
I haven’t been to school in a student capacity in a really long time. This was a little scary, but something that I was really looking forward to. I love learning, and the opportunity to learn new things was very exciting. I have really been impressed with how hard the instructors work to help us succeed. If you have the “want to”, they really try hard to help you get the “can do”. They even do tutoring after hours. The interest that they take in your success when you take responsibility for it is amazing. When I was in college, I felt abandoned and set adrift. Here, I feel like we are in this together. It has been a great experience and even when I don’t understand something, I am confident that I can go to someone who will help me understand. I feel like I am part of something bigger than me.
When I decided to change my career, it was not something that I undertook lightly. I came from a completely different industry in an office environment and had risen to supervisory levels. To start over as an apprentice was a huge change, but one that I understood had to be approached both mentally and emotionally as well as physically. My father had worked in this trade and my husband has been a proud member of Local 26 for many years now. I had a good idea of what a day in the life of an electrical worker entailed, but seeing is a whole lot different from being.
I have often heard people refer to the apprenticeship period as “paying your dues”. When I embarked on this journey that is my apprenticeship, I did so with the idea that no task was to be taken for granted because I am “paying my dues”. But I never appreciated the true reward of “paying your dues” until a few days ago.
I went to the union hall to pay my actual union dues. It was New Year’s Eve, so a lot of folks were there doing the same. As I was leaving, holding my dues receipt in my hand, I met a group of gentlemen who were entering to pay their dues. All greeted me a “sister”, and one in particular held the door for me and indicated that even though he wasn’t working, he was still paying his dues. He was joyful and wished me a happy New Year and a happy Kwanzaa. All were talking and laughing with a comradery and spirit of friendship that I had never experienced before in my entire working life. But the part that truly inspired me, was that they included me in this. In that moment, I understood that “paying your dues” isn’t just something we do, it is something we become.
When we pay our dues, we become part of something bigger than ourselves. We become part of a brotherhood (even if you are a sister) that cares about us. I thought back to all the journeymen and other apprentices who have taken me under their wings and showed me how to do things, explained tasks or procedures to me, and made me feel welcome since I have been here. I have had a job since I was 15 years old (my feminine vanity will not allow me to go into how long ago that was), but in all that time, I have never experienced anything quite like this…..and all because I am willing…and have been given the opportunity….to pay my dues.