Unemployed construction workers say they’re running out of time


In talking to individual carpenters at Tuesday’s jobs rally, their personal circumstances may be different, but the basic story is the same.

“Nobody’s hiring. You call, and nobody’s hiring,” said Christopher Leko, age 34, of Elk River. Leko, a member of Local 851, has been out of work for 5 months. He has exhausted his unemployment insurance.

“Last year, I worked for 6 months and was off for 6 months. It was a rough year.… My wife’s got a job and we’re kind of living off her health insurance right now, so we’re thankful for that.”

Ron Kollar, age 50, of East Bethel, also has exhausted his unemployment benefits. His health insurance ran out in April. He’s been out of work for most of the past year. “It’s a tough battle,” the Local 851 member said. “All the [companies] that I’ve worked for over the years don’t have anything. It’s just been grim.”

“I feel this is a really bad recession,” said Bill Dwyer, age 54, of Shoreview. Dwyer, a member of Local 1644, has worked only 6 weeks this year, and only about 8 months total since the beginning of 2007. He’s been out of work since March.

“I’m on the out-of-work list. There are 500 something people on the list right now. A few months ago, it went down 4 people. There are hundreds of people on the list, and the whole month it goes down 4 people.”

“I checked in with all the employers I worked with in the past,” said Paul Berge, age 61, of Waconia. “It seems that everybody’s jobs, they’re cancelled or on hold. It’s a very slow time.” Berge, of Local 1644, has been out of work since August. “I’m past retirement, but I can’t afford to retire.”

Crossing their fingers

“You have half a year of work and you try to pay your bills for a whole year. It’s tough,” said James Cornwell, age 48, of Coon Rapids. Cornwell, of Local 851, has been out of work for 6 months. He’s out of unemployment insurance. “As far as health insurance, I’m only covered when I put in enough hours to be covered, and I just cross my fingers and hope nothing happens to me or my family.”

For 51-year-old Greg Hartzell, of Coon Rapids, even the mall expansion may come too late. “I’ve used county assistance for gas and lights. There are times I’m living off the food shelf and the venison I shot last fall.”

Hartzell, a member of Local 851, has worked only 16 weeks total in the past 15 months. “This is the worst I’ve seen it. We’ve got the contractors list – I’ve called that numerous times, and all I hear is ‘Call back in a month.’ ‘Call back in 2 months.’ ‘We won’t have anything for 4 months.’

“That’s all you can do. With the price of gas, you can’t be driving all over the cities here trying to find a job.”

Hartzell expects he’ll be forced to leave the state. “I was told by a lawyer just to vacate my house. I’d be money ahead. Turn the water off and shut the power off and vacate.… I can’t even work with my mortgage company because I don’t have a job. After 32 years, it stinks.”

Michael Kuchta is communications coordinator for the North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters.