The Southern States Millwright Regional Council (SSMRC) is a valuable resource for the industries it serves. The SSMRC is made up of approximately 5,600 skilled millwrights, journeymen and apprentices across eleven southern states from North Carolina to Texas. The SSMRC was founded to serve the needs of its partnering contractors, end users, and their members, who are widely considered to be the best in the industry.
As a great believer in helping both its membership and others in need, the SSMRC partners with other councils within the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America (UBC) and various other National Building Trades Unions to assist with the management of many endeavors.
“Unions were established by communities,” comments SSMRC Executive-Secretary Treasurer, Wayne Jennings. “Unions are about helping people – communities banding together for the advancement of everyone. Banding together in times of need, we work to raise the standard of living for everyone. Our members hold each other to a high standard of performance; from the first-year apprentice, to the seasoned leader in management, we believe everyone that holds themselves to a high standard of professionalism and performance deserves adequate wages and benefits for their efforts.” Unions and communities alike strive to succeed and they both work hard to bring everyone around them up along the way. The SSMRC is a prime example of a community of millwrights working together with end users and a group of partnering contractors to ensure everyone’s success.
The SSMRC was chartered by the UBC on September 7, 2010; the roots of the UBC itself go back to its founding in 1881. The UBC is widely known as one trade, many crafts. The Millwright is one of those crafts.
“The millwrights provide a service to a variety of industries with safe, professional, productive, mechanics that specialize in their craft of choice,” says Jennings. “Millwrights are highly precise mechanics with the skills to adjust machinery to within thousandths of an inch, resulting in equipment longevity and increased productivity.”
Jennings was hired by the council on Sept. 7, 2010, as the business representative for Millwright and Machinery Erectors Local 1192, and appointed as EST to fulfill the remaining term of former EST Dennis Donahou in June of 2015. Long before he became executive secretary-treasurer, Jennings says his father and grandfather helped instill a solid work ethic in him. This drive and determination led to him studying carpentry in vocational school, serving in the US Army (10th Mountain Division) and joining the UBC upon his discharge.
Jennings joined Millwright Local 1192 in Birmingham, Alabama, in the fall of 1991, and served the first few years of his apprenticeship at US Steel in Fairfield, Alabama. He was later dispatched to a power plant within the Southern Company System, Alabama Power Plant, E.C. Gaston, located in Wilsonville, Alabama. While constantly learning, he worked through an apprenticeship program and into supervision as a foreman, superintendent and eventually as a project manager, always striving to gain experience and advance the team. “A team consists of members, management, partnering contractors and end users,” he says. “You have to invest time building these relationships and work together for the advancement of everyone. With that type of mentality, everyone succeeds.”
The SSMRC currently operates with a staff of twenty-two and supplies a quality industrial workforce to help facilitate safe, professional, and productive maintenance and construction projects. It is committed to protecting and promoting the interests of its members, encouraging an apprenticeship system, and assisting members in procuring employment and career advancement through training.
The SSMRC’s main mission is to improve the working conditions and standard of living for its members; the SSMRC takes a proactive approach, which includes monitoring markets in which its members work, managing health and welfare programs and pensions, and negotiating contracts for the advancements of all. “We do a lot of homework, so when we walk into negotiations, we are realistic and well-educated on what the market will support,” states Jennings. “Millwrights are skilled tradesmen that bring a lot to the table within the industries we service. For our members’ skill set and effort they deliver every day building and maintaining the facilities they work in, they deserve a portion of the wealth they help create. Our millwrights work on equipment and in facilities that make millions and in some cases, billions of dollars in profit annually. For their services, they deserve a fair wage, health benefits for themselves and their families, and a sufficient pension for them to retire in dignity after a long career of constructing and maintaining wealth-building facilities,” says Jennings.
“These facilities long outlast people. The people and the communities that assist in the process should enjoy some of the wealth. For this to happen we understand that our partners, the end users and our signatory contractors, must succeed. We understand that with their success, comes our success. Through the negotiation process we promise, for a fair wage and a good benefit package we will deliver Safe, Professional, Productive Millwrights. We intend on keeping our promises,” states Jennings.
The SSMRC not only works within the industries it serves; the SSMRC works in and with the communities that its members live within, always poised to help when and where needed.
If there is ever a time when people need to come together, it is in the wake of a national disaster. Hurricane Harvey formed in mid-August of this year, soon gaining strength and becoming the first major hurricane to make landfall in the United States in a dozen years with tree-snapping and roof-tearing winds of up to 130 miles per hour. Many parts of East Texas were hit with devastating floods and crippling rain accumulations of almost sixty-five inches. By the time it was finally over on September third, Hurricane Harvey had displaced over 30,000 people, ravaged thousands of houses and businesses and caused damage estimated at $65 billion and counting.
“In advance of Hurricane Harvey, Dennis Donahou, District Vice President of the UBC’s Southern District and his team of Executive Secretary-Treasurers (ESTs) – Jason Engels EST of the Central South Carpenters, Mike Boner EST of the Mid-South Carpenters, Larry Phillips EST of the South Eastern Carpenters, James Banks EST of the Florida Carpenters and myself – had several communications to prepare for the upcoming event,” says Jennings.
“We learned a lot from our past efforts with Katrina and the 2016 floods in Louisiana. We have an application form that we distribute to our members, and if they are affected by any disaster, they can apply for assistance. We always partner with our training funds in the areas affected and usually set up distribution centers where we can pass out essentials for victims of these disasters – clothing, food, water, and in some cases, materials to help reconstruct their homes. The SSMRC recruited volunteer members to set up phone lines for people to call in case they needed help. We contacted all of our members to ensure their needs were met to the best of our ability.”
The SSMRC donated $100,000 to the disaster relief fund for both the 2016 floods in Louisiana and the 2017 Hurricane Harvey that hit Texas, for a total of $200,000, and its executive board plans to meet shortly to decide on Hurricane Irma as well. These efforts serve as just a few examples of how the SSMRC works to help others during times of crisis both monetarily and by members volunteering, from manning phones to assisting with clean-up and rebuilding.
“I believe that the total donations from the UBC affiliates that are participating in the disaster relief funds we have established will be well over the $500,000 mark when everything has been tabulated. The councils and locals participate in the efforts as much as possible. From our members being deployed out to assist where needed – running our disaster relief distribution centers – to monetary donations, we all pull together to help anyone we can,” says Jennings.
Along with www.southernstatesmillwrights.org and www.professionalmillwright.com, the SSMRC has a significant presence on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and YouTube. The organization works with employers, attends conferences and does considerable investing within its ranks, educating members on not only necessary technical millwright skills, but also helping with soft skills to help members become more efficient. These include communication, the importance of being dependable, possessing a great attitude, collaboration in the workplace, mentoring one another, “and basically being your brother and sister’s keeper – a self-policing membership,” states Jennings.
“We are actively in communication with our partners, whether it is a personal visit to their office, attending industrial advancement conferences or hosting quarterly contractor meetings. Relationships that are fostered and maintained properly will be strong and can work through any task they are faced with. We work hard to develop and maintain positive, productive relationships.”
The council sees, on average, a two percent membership increase per year. Its strategy is simple: supply a quality product that is in demand, work with the utmost respect for professionalism and safety, pay attention to detail, quality craftsmanship and have millwrights with a great attitude and willingness to work.
“When we deliver, it allows our contractors to succeed and our end users to get their product to market sooner and keep it there longer,” says Jennings. “Everyone prospers. Man hours increase, and with increased man hours, employment opportunities rise, and membership grows.” In 2016, SSMRC members worked an impressive 6,039,622 hours; in the first six months of 2017, 3,424,536 work hours have been achieved, which is on track to becoming the best year ever seen by the council.
“With these advancements, it will give us the opportunity to recruit, train, and grow our membership,” says Jennings. “The more we grow, the more we help our communities grow. Our members are afforded the opportunity to make a fair wage and provide for their families. By raising the area standards for one, we help raise the area standards for all.”