Speaking with Retirees about Change
Duard Dilday Jr., LU 808
69 years old – 44 year member
How did you get into the industry?
I started back in 1973–framing houses. In 1976, the union had so much work and not enough people to cover it. They approached a group of us asking if we wanted to join the union. Our contractor signed on, and in ‘76, I started my apprenticeship and then journeyed out in ‘79.
We were doing great, and the pay was great, up until Reagan was elected. Then I had to start traveling for work because there wasn’t any in Wyoming.
I’ve worked in 4 other states–Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and Colorado. I’ve worked as a journeyman, foreman, general foreman, steward, and project superintendent. I also helped the union organize and walked picket lines in the 80’s–which was much more dangerous at the time. There were times I was nervous, but I had pride and knew the brotherhood had my back.
These days I still volunteer–I help our rep, Todd Crosby, at orientations, and I participate in our local union meetings.
You’ve done a lot during your time with the union. Did it change your life in ways you weren’t expecting?
In 2001, I had open-heart surgery to replace 2 of my valves. I went back to work, but then, in 2006, the valves failed, and I went through it all a second time. Then, in 2011, I suffered from kidney failure.
My wife and I often talk about where we would be if I didn’t have that insurance. I could have died. All three of my kids might not have grown up successful if I hadn’t had my benefits. My son is now a union electrician, and he understands the union philosophy.
I stress this at meetings and orientations–if it weren’t for the insurance I had thanks to the union, I wouldn’t be alive today. My wife and I collected all the paperwork and found that all my surgeries had cost around $1.2 million. I paid only $14,000 out of pocket. The health and welfare benefits you get joining a union are amazing.
The coronavirus has affected various industries–including ours. There are people who aren’t worried about catching COVID-19–they just want to keep working. What do you think of that?
I’ve been on a ventilator twice in my life–and what happens is you are rendered unconscious, and they give you muscle relaxers, so when you do wake up, you’re paralyzed and confused. They put a tube down your throat that’s only half an inch diameter, but it feels like a garden hose. You swear you’re not getting enough oxygen–and they’ll tell you you are, but it won’t feel like it.
There’s more to this than just being on a ventilator too. If you think you’re tough enough and you don’t believe this is serious, then consider all that and think about being in that situation. Putting one of your brothers or sisers in that situation. And keep in mind, your family won’t be able to be there because you could get them sick too.
You have to take care of yourself and follow procedure. Be safe and take precautions.
What about those laid off or stuck at home right now? Any advice?
This whole thing isn’t going to last forever, but it will last a while. You need to be ready for when they say it’s time to come back to work. Take online certifications and look at how you can stay sharp before work starts back up.
With the internet, we have access to information in a way that wasn’t there before. There’s so much you can learn. If you’ve ever felt unsure about something on a job, you can check it out on youtube or other sites. Right now, there’s a demand for drywallers and metal stud training. If you can, it’s a great idea to take the time to learn about your trade. You’ll know the basics, and you’ll be ready, so you can pick things up quicker when job sites open again.
Your foreman and supers–they’ll notice this too. Things will be tough after all this, but when they start to look at making cuts, they won’t be looking at you–they’ll look at who’s the slowest. The better and faster you are, the more you stand out. They’ll say, “This person is showing a desire to learn,” and they’ll want to keep you on.