From frus­trated to ful­filled: An ap­pren­tice’s tale at Bucks arena

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE -

Not long ago, Ear­livia An­der­son felt stuck and frus­trated in a ware­house job. Today, she’s build­ing both the Mil­wau­kee Bucks arena and a new ca­reer as a car­pen­ter.

“I’m su­per ex­cited to be here. I can’t wait to see what it looks like when it’s done,” said An­der­son, 24, dur­ing a break on the busy con­course level Tues­day morn­ing.

An ap­pren­tice, An­der­son is ea­ger to learn, and was part of a team in­stalling pro­tec­tive wall pan­els in a bar stor­age area. She helped mea­sure and cut a large panel so it would fit around a cir­cuit breaker box and plumb­ing fit­tings.

Jour­ney­man car­pen­ter Carl Hodge spread a layer of ad­he­sive, and then told An­der­son it was time to hang the panel.

“Let’s use two of us. It’s kind of floppy,” Hodge ad­vised as An­der­son be­gan to lift the piece off a work ta­ble. “Got the lad­der ready?”

Min­utes later, the per­fectly cut piece was up. It’s a small step in a mas­sive con­struc­tion project, but for An­der­son an­other mile­stone in her new ca­reer, which is only a few months old.

She’ll be an ap­pren­tice for four years, and then hopes to work as a union busi­ness agent and even­tu­ally a jour­ney­man.

Such work­ers are key for the con­struc­tion trades, which have strug­gled to at­tract young peo­ple. The Bucks have made de­vel­op­ing and im­prov­ing the work­force a key part of the $524 mil­lion arena project.

An­der­son is one of about 230 ap­pren­tices among about 800 work­ers on the con­struc­tion site just north of the BMO Har­ris Bradley Cen­ter. She’s been on the job a short time, and dur­ing a visit it was clear that Hodge is a solid men­tor.

“I take a lot of pride in this,” Hodge said of work­ing with ap­pren­tices.

“Keep­ing them safe is the first pri­or­ity. If they get hurt, I can’t teach them.”

The Bucks say they’ve ex­ceeded the hir­ing prom­ises made sev­eral years ago when the team’s new own­ers se­cured $250 mil­lion in pub­lic fund­ing for the arena. Since con­struc­tion be­gan a lit­tle more than a year ago, 3,200 work­ers com­pleted safety train­ing and 800 of those were ap­pren­tices, said Brid­get Kraus, a spokes­woman for Morten­son Con­struc­tion.

“We came in and made prom­ises and we’ve kept them,” Bucks Se­nior Vice Pres­i­dent Alex Lasry said of the own­er­ship team, which in­cludes his fa­ther, Marc Lasry, a New York hedge fund man­ager.

The Bucks also com­mit­ted to pay­ing a $15 per hour min­i­mum wage.

“It’s some­thing that we’re do­ing that’s im­por­tant for the com­mu­nity,” Lasry said. “We want other com­pa­nies to fol­low the model that we’ve started.”

The Bucks and Morten­son are pay­ing spe­cial at­ten­tion to ap­pren­tices Wednesday when they stage a lun­cheon for all arena project work­ers at the UWMil­wau­kee Pan­ther Arena. The ap­pren­tices also will re­ceive two tick­ets to the game against the Detroit Pis­tons that evening.

It’s part of the Bucks’ ob­ser­vance of the third an­nual Na­tional Ap­pren­tice­ship Week, cre­ated by the U.S. Depart­ment of La­bor. Na­tion­ally, such events are meant to highlight and at­tract in­ter­est to jobs in the con­struc­tion trades.

The ap­pren­tice-jour­ney­man re­la­tion­ship has changed sig­nif­i­cantly, said jour­ney­man car­pen­ter Dan Whiteaker.

“When I was work­ing as an ap­pren­tice, we got screamed at for eight hours a day,” said Whiteaker. “Now, we make an ef­fort to teach — and do it in a calm man­ner.”

Whiteaker, 37, is work­ing with ap­pren­tice An­thony Lewis, who’s the same age. Things are go­ing well, both men said.

“In this field you can’t be afraid to make a mis­take,” said Lewis, an Army vet­eran. “If you get stuck on some­thing, ask a ques­tion.”

The goal is to broaden work­ers’ skills and ex­pe­ri­ence, Lasry said, ad­ding that jobs in the trades pro­vide a solid mid­dle-class stan­dard of liv­ing.

Lasry says the Bucks have hon­ored com­mit­ments they made to em­ploy city of Mil­wau­kee res­i­dents and peo­ple who work for small or dis­ad­van­taged busi­nesses. The team used an em­ploy­ment out­reach ef­fort that in­cluded a half-dozen town-hall-type meet­ings be­fore con­struc­tion be­gan.

Work­ers like An­der­son and Lewis could find them­selves on arena-re­lated projects for years, Lasry said. Fu­ture projects in­clude the pos­si­ble con­struc­tion of a cor­po­rate head­quar­ters com­plex just north of the arena, and rede­vel­op­ment on the site of what is now the BMO Har­ris Bradley Cen­ter.

“This project is more than just build­ing an arena. It’s build­ing ca­reers,” Lasry said.

“We want to say a big ‘thank you’ for build­ing this thing.”

MARK HOFF­MAN / MIL­WAU­KEE JOURNAL SEN­TINEL

Ap­pren­tice car­pen­ter Ear­livia An­der­son reads plans while in­stalling pan­els in a room for a cooler at the new arena be­ing con­structed for the Mil­wau­kee Bucks.

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