The members of Minnesota’s trade unions are a diverse group, but one cornerstone that unites them is commitment – to their craft, quality, families and community. Even so, some members take commitment to a whole new level, and that’s certainly the case for Gerald Erickson, who’s celebrating 70 years in the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 49.
Even with 70 years under his belt, Gerald hasn’t always been a union member. Before he got his start in Local 49, Gerald served in the United States Navy during World War II. “I was in the Navy for two years on a small aircraft carrier over in the Pacific,” he said. As a gunner on the ship, he was involved in five different invasions, including the battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa.
After his service, Gerald returned home to Minnesota in 1946 and found work at Guthery Construction in Deer River. “I was first put on as an oiler for a crane, then they had me on a grease truck. One day my boss asked me if I knew how to run a scraper, and I said sure,” he said with a laugh. “That’s how I got my start in construction.”
It wasn’t until 1947 that Gerald joined the union. “I didn’t know about Local 49 at first, that’s why I didn’t join in 1946,” he said. “But after I joined, I liked that they found the jobs for you and the wages were so much better compared to other work around…even back then.”
It’s those union qualities that made it an easy decision for him to remain a member so long. Throughout his 70 years, his roles ranged from crude oil scraper operator to master mechanic to superintendent, but he was always a 49er. He retired in 1990, but to this day he’s remained a proud member.
Three cheers for 70 years, and thanks to Gerald for his lifelong commitment to building a stronger Minnesota.