Unions In Dakotas Seek Construction Workers Willing To Put Down Roots

'We Want Wisconsin, Minnesota Workers To Go Back Home' Says One Spokesperson

An oil rig in North Dakota. Photo: Tim Evanson (CC-BY-SA)

An oil boom in North and South Dakota continues to draw many workers from Wisconsin and other states. Now, unions in the Dakotas are hosting a series of construction job fairs aimed at locals, saying employers want people who are willing to settle down in the area.

“We want the Wisconsin and the Minnesota workers to go back home,” said Robb Leer, a spokesperson for a consortium of six building trade unions that is hosting a series of job fairs in North Dakota and South Dakota.

It’s hard to say exactly how many people from states like Wisconsin have migrated to jobs in the Dakotas. Leer says there is a shortage of skilled construction workers in the region, and that the population boom in the region has increased tax revenue so infrastructure projects are funded and ready to go. He says the aim is to get workers who are either from the area or who want to stay there.

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“It’s a chance now to build the depths of the skilled workforce so the workers from Wisconsin, Minnesota, the Midwest, they can go home, because there’s plenty of work to do in our own backyards right now,” said Leer.

Leer emphasizes that workers from Wisconsin are still welcome to apply; it’s just that they need to make a commitment to the job. According to Kevin Pranis of the Laborers International Union for North America, many workers who arrive from out of state are making that commitment.

“A lot of our members may be coming from other places but a good number of them are settling down in North Dakota and buying or building homes,” said Pranis. “(They’re) deciding that … there’s going to be 20 years of work here, I’m going to be here for the next 20 years as a laborer, get my pension and be able to retire.”

Twelve job fairs are scheduled in both North Dakota and South Dakota, as part of the “Dakota Construction Careers” campaign.