Earlier this summer, Labor Secretary Marty Walsh joined President Biden, union workers and retirees in Cleveland, Ohio, to announce the final rule implementing the American Rescue Plan’s Special Financial Assistance program. Every person deserves to retire with dignity and receive the benefits they earned through their years of hard work. This program will provide financial relief to millions of unionized workers in multiemployer plans who faced significant cuts to their pensions. We caught up with Joe Pittman II, a member of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, to share how the Special Financial Assistance program will benefit him and his family.
What industry are you in, and what was your career path getting there?
My journey of how I became a union carpenter was by sheer happenstance. I had dropped out of school and was working sporadically for a few temp services and fast-food joints. I found out that my girlfriend was pregnant, and I knew I needed something more stable to sustain a family.
After getting my GED certificate, I started work in maintenance at a low-income apartment complex. One day at work, I was approached by someone who suggested becoming a union carpenter. “Heck, yeah” was my response.
Carpentry felt like the right fit. So, I completed an apprenticeship and now I’ve been in the construction field for 27 years. It was a journey getting here, but now I feel lucky to go to work and receive a good wage and benefits that have helped me support my family.
What does economic security mean to you and your family?
It means everything to blue-collar middle-class workers like myself and my family. We know what it’s like to be under the poverty line. So economic security is exactly why we put in the work, and why I joined my union. We don’t mind paying our fair share of taxes. We just don’t want to have to decide on medication, food or bills.
What benefits have you received or experienced from your union membership?
It broke a cycle of poverty within my family. With family-sustaining wages, I was the first in my family to buy a home and show my children that they don’t have to just survive, they can thrive in life. I’m so appreciative that there has been negotiated wages and benefits over the years that set an area standard for wages—not only for union carpenters, but the unrepresented ones as well. It’s given me and my family peace of mind.
How will the Biden-Harris administration’s Special Financial Assistance program support you and your economic security?
I’m a participant in the Southwest Ohio Carpenters pension plan that took MEPRA suspensions. This is huge for us: It means me and my wife will be able to retire with dignity!
The Pittmans feel blessed to be healthy, happy Americans. We are also so proud to call Joe Biden our president.