Townsend & Schmidt masons are busy working three stories up at the site of the new Sacramento City College Student Services Building on Freeport Boulevard in Land Park, carefully laying the curved brick corners of the new structure.
While every mason on the job has decades of experience, most are new to the union. Townsend & Schmidt recently re-signed with BAC Local 3 in July 2013 after dropping of the list of union contractors in 1989 as the company struggled to make it through a difficult economic period.
“Being signatory, it allows us to bid on more union contracts,” says company co-owner Kevin MacDonald, a brick mason himself who first joined a union in 1977. “Before, when the economy was good, there were a handful of general contractors in the area that kept very busy with work. Now they don’t have the work to keep us busy. So we had to go outside the area and we started bidding just in general. In the Bay Area, they’re predominantly union and they won’t accept our bids if we’re non-union/basic contract. So that was my main reason (for becoming signatory) – to allow us to bid more to hopefully get more work.”
While the company has found jobs in the region, including Chico, Redwood City and Tahoe, finding work in the city of Sacramento has been tougher. With the downtown arena and surrounding projects on the horizon, which local unions are committed to ensuring are done with all-union crews, MacDonald adds that he is hopeful being signatory will lead to winning work on some of these buildings.
“That was another key reason for us to go into the union also because I know that will probably be a key alliance,” he says. “We might not get the main part of it, but any part of it would be home.”
The Labor Bulletin spoke with the Townsend & Schmidt crew on what they like about being masons, how they got started, and what they think of being union members.
I got started through family. My grandpa was in the business, and my dad (Robert) actually works for Townsend & Schmidt. I started working with him after high school, Laguna Creek in Elk Grove. Then I went to Sac State for a year. I didn’t like the school atmosphere so I came out and started laying brick and block with my dad, and I’ve been here since 1998.
Everyday is different, every job is different. There are always problems to be solved. When you get done, you can look at a building that’s basically going to be there for your lifetime. It’s pretty cool to see that. Working with the guys we work with in this company, they are good guys to work with. They make the day enjoyable. That’s pretty much what I like about it.
A lot of father-sons don’t get along well, but we work great together. We have our moments. But business is business and family is family. We may not agree on the jobsite but at the end of the day he’s still my dad and we’ll hang out and get in an argument and two hours later we’ll be just fine.
This building, the shape of the corners, how they are round on some of the areas, is a little bit different. The rounded is pretty interesting, a different look.
Joining the union, it’s good for multiple reasons. The private sector was dropping their wages so far that joining the union, we got to have better wages and have medical when we get our hours from the union. We just want to work all the time, and joining the union has given our boss the chance to bid more, and more general contractors have asked him to bid more jobs, so it gives us more work.
Probably about 26, 27 years I’ve been a mason. My father-in-law was a carpenter foreman and that was the first job I got started on. He got me a job after I got married, I was about 22 I think. I’m from Orangevale.
I like masonry because whatever I build it’s always there. I can go back in 30 years and it’s still there. They don’t tear it down. It just lasts forever. Old masonry, brick buildings, they can be a hundred years old and they’re still standing. And I just like the way brick looks. It’s a good look. It’s well insulated. The round corners aren’t tricky to do. They take a little more time. But they’re not that hard. You have to level everything. You can’t use a line.
I thought (rejoining the union) at this time in the economy, it was a good thing. Wages were just going so low it was a blessing we just actually got in the union so it brought our wages back up. I was in the union (when I started construction). I wish I would have stayed in the union because I’d be almost retired now. It has its benefits. I’ve been with this company about four years. The company I was with before went out of business, but I’ve known Kevin (MacDonald) for a while, so he gave me a job. Worked out pretty well.
I’ve been a mason forever. My dad was a mason. I came out from Utah in 1987. I just enjoy building things. Probably a lot of it because my father did it and I got a taste of it. I enjoy it. I enjoy the work. I was 19 when I started. I would rather have had (my son, Chad) do something else but as long as you’re good at what you do, and he’s good at what he does. So it’s fine with me.
It just a nice good brick job. You don’t see a whole lot of brick jobs like these anymore.
I was pleased (when I heard we were rejoining the union). We were losing a lot of potential work, pay scales were dropping tremendously, and it was nice to see it happening. We were probably one of the only contractors competitive with the union contractors anyway just in the work we do, the skill level. It was probably time. It was a good thing.
We’re laying bricks around the corner, same thing we do every day. It’s just another job. I’ve been a mason 30 years. I’m from Utah. I moved here in 1989. But now this is home. I didn’t want to go school and one thing leads to another. I do like it. I’ve been doing it a lot of years, since 1976. (Being back in the union,) the union sets the wage, so it’s got some benefits.