Op-Ed: Biden’s Investments Create an Unprecedented Opportunity for Arizona Carpenters

Graphic by Francesca Daly; Photograph courtesy of Bill Ruiz

By Bill Ruiz

July 7, 2023

Longtime carpenter Bill Ruiz worried it would take years for his sector to recover from the pandemic. Instead, the industry is experiencing a boom and jobs are plentiful. “In two short years, the Biden administration has revived our industry with its historic investments,” Ruiz writes.

As Biden administration officials travel to Arizona to tout recent accomplishments as part of  their ‘Investing in America’ tour, I find some folks don’t realize how the investments impact their lives. But look no further than the dozens of recent manufacturing projects in Arizona to see thousands of carpenters like me benefitting from a government investing in the middle class. 

I’m a second-generation carpenter. During my 36 years in the field, I’ve done all kinds of work and seen this career through the good times and bad. It’s a fulfilling, great job, but it’s unpredictable. When the economy isn’t doing well, carpenters struggle.  

After the pandemic’s economic downturn, I thought it would be several years until the industry rebounded. But in two short years, the Biden administration has revived our industry with its historic investments.

In Arizona alone, we have already dispatched thousands of carpenters to build new semiconductor fabs (manufacturing plants where semiconductors are fabricated), clean energy manufacturing, and dozens of infrastructure projects. Not only does this boost our economy, but it also supports good-paying, middle-class jobs for decades.

The Carpenter’s Union has undergone many changes throughout its 147 years. The carpenters of the 1800s wouldn’t recognize today’s carpentry work. In addition to constructing buildings, carpenters can be underwater divers working to repair dams or working for military defense contractors. I joined the union 23 years ago and worked as a foreman up to my current role as a business representative for the Southwest Mountain States Carpenters Local Union 1912. I’ve experienced first-hand what our members do, and I’ve seen challenging times.

After the 2008 recession, carpenter work dried up. The government wasn’t investing in infrastructure and private industry put a pause on building, which meant we had to travel to stay working. During the lean years, we reduced our pension contributions and benefits coverages to maintain our healthcare. 

Now, thanks to the recent historic infrastructure and manufacturing investments, the tides are shifting as Arizona experiences a manufacturing and construction boom. Last year, the Biden administration passed the CHIPS and Science Act and shortly after, TSMC and Intel increased their investments in semiconductor fabs in Arizona. Our union has close to 2800 members working on constructing the buildings, and working on energy substations to support the projects. 

To put it into perspective, one fab is an $8 billion project that takes about two to three years to complete and employs around 2200 carpenters, pipefitters, and crane operators to name a few. Since the CHIPS Act was enacted, 10 semiconductor and ancillary business projects have been announced in Arizona.

This is in addition to 12 clean energy projects and billions of dollars for infrastructure upgrades that have been announced. Not only are we supporting good jobs, but much-needed infrastructure that’s been long neglected.

Normally, carpenters work 40-hour work weeks but with the high demand for their skills, many members are electing to work 60-65 hour weeks. Their earning potential has increased exponentially as they are paid double or triple their wage to take on more hours. Now, many are able to work beyond the hours required to reach full pension benefits and can begin closing the gap from lean years.

It’s a very lucrative opportunity for members as they are bringing home higher earnings than we have ever had.

As a union, we were thrilled to see that recent legislation like the Inflation Reduction Act contains strong labor protections like prevailing wages. Every contractor we are working with says we are meeting or exceeding the schedule while hitting all our safety requirements. They are glad to invest in trained personnel because union work turns out a better product while ensuring our members’ needs are met.

With an administration committed to investing in the middle class, our members breathe a collective sigh of relief. There are years – if not decades – of work for our members. We are very grateful that President Biden’s administration did the right thing for the American people, the American worker, and the middle class.

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