Fabian Sandez spent his summers traveling from Mexico to California to learn everything he could about trades work from his stepfather. Now, he’s encouraging others to enter the trades.
When Fabian Sandez was a child growing up in Ciudad Morelos, Mexico, he never dreamed he’d one day be building hotels, hospitals, and casinos in the United States.
But that’s where his career as a union carpenter has led him. The 55-year-old Mesa resident can point to roughly half-a-dozen different hospitals he’s built in Arizona, including the Mountain Vista Medical Center in Mesa and the Tucson Medical Center.
“A lot of times, I was building a building that I couldn’t even afford to stay in, but I had the pleasure of saying I built it,” Sandez said. “That’s what being a carpenter is all about: putting your signature in every building you build. You take that drawing and bring it to life; you take that piece of paper and erect that structure.”
And by bringing these drawings to life as a union carpenter, with Southwest Mountain States Regional Council of Carpenters as a member of Local 1912, Sandez was guaranteed a certain level of economic security.
Sandez says that the carpenters’ union is all about “better jobs, better benefits, and better wages.”
“Because I had the benefit of having insurance for the first time, I was able to start saving some money and start living a better life,” he said.
Sandez expressed gratitude for the mental health care he can access through his union’s health insurance package and said that that’s helped not only himself, but his children as well.
“My whole life has been built around the carpenters’ union,” he said.
That’s why Sandaz is thrilled that President Joe Biden understands the importance of unions and isn’t afraid to use the word “union” in public.
“I have never in my 22 years of working as a carpenter heard the word ‘union’ come out of a president,” he said. “Time and time again, he’ll speak about unions, he’ll speak about the middle class, which in the past used to be a taboo.”
Just as importantly, Sandez noted, Biden’s policies are helping union workers.
He said that Biden’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act—which invested billions of dollars into improving and modernizing America’s infrastructure—has provided a ton of work for people in his union. They’re building bridges, highways, and more.
Sandez also spoke about the CHIPS and Science Act, which Biden signed into law last year. This legislation invests billions into semiconductor research, development, and production—something that Sandez says directly benefits members of his union as it gets them more work.
“I’m really grateful for what he’s done, for all of us in the industry,” Sandez said. “Especially the middle class.”
Sandez’s career has given him a level of stability and security he only dreamed of as a kid.
When he was in elementary school, Sandez’s mother moved to the US for work, but he stayed behind in Mexico, living with his grandmother so he could continue going to school.
Every summer, he’d visit his mother and stepfather in Oceano Beach, Calif. It was during these trips that he first learned about what a career in the skilled trades might look like. Working with his stepfather, he learned about the different jobs within the residential drywall industry.
After he finished high school, Sandez planned to go to college in Mexicali, a city near the US-Mexico border. He considered studying architecture and engineering. But working with his stepfather in the US that summer, Sandez realized that a career in construction could provide him stability. He decided to stay in California to pursue that path instead.
Sandez worked in the non-union construction sector until he officially became a US citizen in 2004 and joined his union. Since then, Sandez has moved up the ranks of his union, working as a general foreman, a superintendent, and now a regional manager and president.
Sandez no longer works hands-on as a carpenter. Instead, he now negotiates contracts for union members, helps with the workflow of state operations and recruitment, and works closely with the apprenticeship division to ensure that members are receiving up-to-date training and certification in both Arizona and New Mexico.
Sandez encourages anyone who is interested in working in the trades to get involved, but has advice for women and minorities, who continue to be underrepresented in trades work.
“Be yourself,” he said. “Try to open up to everybody, observe everybody because there are going to be mentors in everybody’s life, and they’re those mentors that go unnoticed that you can pick up some tricks from. We’re always learning from other people.”
“Every woman is capable of doing what every guy can,” he added.
Sandez also mentioned the fact that now’s a perfect time to enter the trades, if you’re considering a career change.
“Now with technology changing, the opportunity is there for both men and women,” he said. “A lot of technology is being introduced, so the opportunities are not as physical as they used to be. There are physical aspects [to working in the trades], but everybody is capable. It doesn’t matter how big a guy is versus a smaller woman, it’s about your brain, and how you use it, and how you adapt to every situation.”
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