Construction unions lead the way to debt-free education
President Biden’s plan to cancel federal student loan debt has been a sigh of relief for millions of Americans who together owe nearly $1.75 trillion in student loan debt, including $31 billion dollars in Massachusetts alone. This innovative plan can’t come fast enough. It is equally important to promote other post-secondary options, such as union learning. Here in Massachusetts, building trades unions are leading the way in offering an approach to a bright future without you incurring mountains of debt.
Some people learn better working with their hands than sitting in a classroom, but everyone does better when they don’t start their career in the red. A union apprenticeship not only provides a debt-free work path, it offers the opportunity to “earn while you learn” by simultaneously providing a paycheck and hands-on training. It allows you to get a foot in the door, develop practical skills and make connections that provide a competitive advantage in landing a job.
President Biden is right: “The middle class built America and unions built the middle class. In Massachusetts, more than 75,000 workers can rely on jobs to support their families thanks to forward-looking building trades unions investing more than $55 million each year in their building programs. training of apprentices.
But we can do more by investing in our communities and in our future. We encourage the next governor and legislature to follow President Biden’s lead in requiring registered apprentices on all public construction beginning in 2024 and on all construction funded by state tax credits in 2025. This will ensure that apprentices have the hours of work needed to complete their training and provide more economic opportunities for Massachusetts residents.
In addition to adding value to the economy, building trades unions are breaking down barriers within the construction industry. Massachusetts leads the way on this front, with three times the national average for female apprentices. Some 92% of all female apprentices in Massachusetts can proudly say they are union members. Even with a college education, women face heavier debt than men and a significant pay gap, earning only 82 cents for every dollar earned by a male worker. Through the guarantee of a union contract, construction unions fight these inequalities, guaranteeing equal pay for equal work,
Building trades unions are also breaking down barriers for people of color — barriers that have led black college graduates to owe an average of $25,000 more in college loans than white grads. As a result, many people of color choose union learning over classroom work. In fact, 85% of all Massachusetts apprentices of color are trained through union apprenticeship programs. And with wages 17% higher than their non-union counterparts, black union workers have more leeway to cover their needs.
Unions aren’t just fighting for your financial security while you’re at work. They also fight for dignified retirements by negotiating secure pensions and annuities, as well as comprehensive health insurance for members and their families. The difference unions make isn’t just about wages and benefits — it’s about respect and safety, now and in the future.
If Americans want to escape crippling student loan debt, unions are part of the solution. A union apprenticeship offers a debt-free path to life-changing careers with wages and benefits that support the family. Opportunity invites itself into the construction unions. Take the call – unions have a place for you.
Frank Callahan is the president of the Massachusetts Building Trades Unions (MBTU).