AFL-CIO HIT Remembers Rod DuChemin
The union movement has lost a good friend and staunch advocate with the passing of Rod DuChemin on May 14, 2021 at the age of 81. A Bricklayer for 66 years, Rod was widely recognized across the union building trades for his contributions to apprenticeship and outreach, which helped diversify the ranks of these unions, as well as for his labor relations work on union construction projects financed with pension dollars.
“Rod was a fourth generation Bricklayer,” said Tim Driscoll, President of the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers (BAC). “Dedication to his craft, trade unionism, and service to others were hallmarks of his career. Rod understood the transformative power of union apprenticeships that provide careers, not just jobs; and the inherent dignity and value that union construction brings to the communities we build.”
Rod joined the Bricklayers union in 1955 as a member of Local 22 in his home state of Ohio. In 1961, a construction boom drew him to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and BAC Local 31. Always one to speak his mind, he was critical of their apprenticeship program. He was told, “If you think you can do better, then do it!” So, he did what he could on his own time, and in 1972 he became Local 31’s first paid Apprenticeship Coordinator. The experience sparked a lifelong interest in training.
At a time when the BAC and many other unions were seeking to diversify their membership, Rod saw an answer in apprenticeship with outreach to women and people of color, who were underrepresented in the skilled trades. Rod talked up apprenticeship with unions and management across Broward County, and the apprenticeship programs grew. A racially diverse group of more than 100 Broward County apprentices attended a ceremony honoring them in 1972. The usual union venues could not handle the crowd, so the ceremony took place at the Boca Raton Country Club. The next year, with its well-trained new apprentices, Local 31 won the statewide skill competition put on by the BAC. During his Florida years, Rod also earned a B.A. in Labor and Manpower Management from Florida International University.
In 1977, Rod was recruited for a job in Washington, D.C., by a Texas Bricklayer he had met through his apprenticeship work – Michael M. (Mike) Arnold. Mike was now the Executive Director of the AFL-CIO Human Resources Development Institute (HRDI), working at the national AFL-CIO headquarters in Washington. Rod joined HRDI as Assistant Director.
“At HRDI, Rod helped us use training and outreach in new ways to break down barriers to good jobs for minorities and women in the building trades,” Mike recalled. “He worked to instill union skills and union values in people as they learned new trades.”
Rod was responsible for 30 innovative outreach and training programs around the country, including 21 Apprenticeship Outreach Programs in the building trades. While at HRDI, he also helped implement the first union apprenticeship program on the Navajo Reservation.
Rod went on to other responsible positions in the union movement after leaving HRDI in 1986, including Assistant to the Executive Vice-President of the Bricklayers in Washington, D.C., as well as an executive position with the International Masonry Institute.
In 1994, Rod became Director of Labor Relations at the AFL-CIO Housing Investment Trust (HIT). He was recruited to the job by his longtime friend and colleague, Mike Arnold, who had become an officer of the HIT. This union-friendly investment company was breaking new ground with its investments in union-built housing. Rod’s job was to make sure the project contractors complied fully with the HIT’s union labor requirements. He became the HIT’s official “watchdog,” troubleshooting worksite issues, keeping the building and construction trades councils informed, and assuring that the HIT’s projects were built all-union.
HIT CEO Chang Suh said, “Rod’s deep understanding of union construction and his devotion to the Building Trades and to the HIT made him the heart and soul of our mission.”
Rod oversaw labor relations on more than 440 construction projects during his 27 years with the HIT. Those housing projects provided more than 147 million hours of union construction work, according to the HIT, and they paid out an estimated $6 billion in union wages and benefits. The projects produced more than 101,500 units of housing, nearly three quarters of which are affordable to low- and moderate-income households.
Rod also performed labor relations services for the AFL-CIO Building Investment Trust (BIT), with similarly positive results on its commercial real estate projects.
Always mindful of the value of apprenticeship, Rod liked to point out that the union men and women employed on HIT projects had access to apprenticeship programs that would enable them to broaden their future employment opportunities.
We remember Rod DuChemin as a man who believed in the values of the union movement, and who put those values into practice every day of his own life.
Among Rod’s survivors are his wife, Beth Brent of Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, and their son, Ryan Whittemore, as well as a brother, Paul DuChemin of Batavia, Ohio.