Ironworkers Local 8
By: Erika Duelge
The circumstances surrounding Brent Emons’ return to the Ironworkers Local 8 are unique, but not surprising. Emons is an ironworker by trade, and is proud to be back at Local 8 as their Business Manager to help share the traditions and values with the next generation of brothers and sisters. As many trades people know, ironworkers hold one of the most dangerous jobs in the trades. With that danger comes a mutual respect for colleagues, and a level of pride that many consider to be unmatched in the industry.
Emons’ story begins 37 years ago when he followed in his father’s footsteps and began working as an ironworker to help pay for college. Only a few months into his job, he realized that he really enjoyed what he was doing – “The physical aspect and independence of it, and the guys I worked with,” he says. It was at this point that Emons stopped working as an ironworker and actually became one.
After serving his apprenticeship (which at that time was only three years), working as a journeyman in the field, as a business agent for four years and business manager for 11 years, Emons left the union office to pursue other interests in the construction industry that included project management and estimating with local construction companies. It was through these experiences that Emons began to understand the importance of employers (management) and employees (labor) working together.
This desire to explain the importance of labor and management working together is one of the many reasons why he was nominated to come back as Local 8’s Business Manager just over a year ago. After a little prodding to return to the Local, Emons won the election and came back under one condition: he would get two new organizers and one new agent in order to work with and lead them in a direction that’s good for the Local.
“I felt honored that I had enough friends in the Local to win the election even after being gone for six years,” states Emons. One could guess that it was these friends, his brothers and sisters, that prompted Emons to return in a leadership role.
Gil Toslek, a Local 8 retiree who is currently assisting as the Apprenticeship Coordinator, is another longtime ironworker who came back because he wanted to help in much the same way that Emons did. According to Emons, “Gil has the knowledge, experience and leadership to get the apprenticeship program back on track.” Toslek is using his background and depth of knowledge to work hand in hand with Rich Hanson, Local 8’s Training Director.
Toslek believes each trade has its own personality, and the Ironworkers appeals to him and suits him quite well. It’s important to both him and Hanson to reach out to strong individuals who are able to work in a highstress environment. Many times individuals are no longer introduced into the trades at a young age and it can be difficult for people to understand the unique bond among the Ironworkers. Emons, Toslek and Hanson work hard individually and as a cohesive unit to teach the younger generation the importance and uniqueness of their trade.
Ironworkers have a difficult yet extremely rewarding job; from constructing the skeleton to reinforcing the building, they lay the foundational elements of any project. The Ironworkers have built many high-profile projects such as the U.S. Bank building (formerly the First Wisconsin building), the Hoan Bridge, Miller Park and the Pleasant Prairie Power House. These jobs shaped the face of Milwaukee and are one of the many reasons why the Ironworkers take great pride in their work.