Aug 8, 2022

Kevin Ferreira Boosts Unions and Youth

A very dark chapter in his life helps shape his outlook

By Ed Goldman

Kevin Ferreira is executive director of the Sacramento-Sierra’s Building & Construction Trades Council, a 20,000-member strong collective of laborers and their own unions. He’s the former president of Ironworkers Local 118, to which he still belongs. 

To state the obvious, he’s a union man.

Edgy Cartoon

Kevin Ferreira. Photo by Edgy.

I’m chatting with him over an outdoor lunch one recent summer day at Seasons Restaurant, a stylish brasserie tucked into Arden Fair, one of the capital’s thriving or struggling shopping malls, depending on the day of the week, the level of economic inflation (along with its byproduct, panic) and peekaboo pandemical status. It’s a good place and time to talk about unions and what they still mean for America. 

In a calm mid-range, radio-ready voice you’d trust to report the news or tell you to buy Lipitor, Ferreira explains why he’ll be asking the Elk Grove City Council to adopt a five-year union-labor agreement to apply to public works projects in this bedroom community—one that declared its independence from the County of Sacramento 22 years ago, becoming the first city in California to be incorporated in this century.

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“Union workers are always better trained,” he says in a low-key manner that’s served him in far more treacherous situations than attending a meeting of city leaders. More on that in a moment.

I ask Ferreira how pervasive he thinks is the belief that union wages raise the cost of a project more than non-union salaries—which would make it seem that a non-union construction company should be able to bid on a government job for a lower cost. 

“Oh, sure, they can bid lower,” he says. “But then, when the project gets under way, they can get enough change orders to drive up the cost of the project. We think the people of Elk Grove deserve the best for their tax money: projects that come in on time and on budget. The risk is far less.”

Let’s take a few moments to talk about why Kevin Ferreira understands risk.

He became an iron worker by conquering his lifelong acrophobia, allowing him to be one of the guys on those all-but-orbiting girders who build our bridges and high-rise hotels. 

But even that lofty work pales in comparison to his earlier assignments in the United States Marine Corps—and the horrifying incident that inspired his service. 

The nightmare that focused Ferreira’s early years occurred when his one-year-old brother, 34-year-old aunt and her six-year-old son were murdered in the latter 1970s by Richard Chase, the so-called “vampire killer” who terrorized the Sacramento region for about two years. Ferreira was just fourteen years old at the time. Several years later, he enlisted in the Marines, where he became—and was cited for his work as—a “scout-sniper.”

I ask him a (possibly stupid) question—if the tragedy from his childhood had something to do with his desire to become an expert (and active) marksman. “Oh, it had everything to do with it,” he says. “I never wanted myself or my family to feel unsafe again. When people you love are killed, all you can do is cry. But you can also try to ensure it doesn’t happen again. This training gave me the confidence to take care of my own. And others.”

It may be a stretch to say that Ferreira’s commitment to all things union is an extension of his desire to watch over the welfare of others. But I don’t think so.

In fact, his trade group takes steps to take care of future generations of workers, with a multitude of apprenticeship programs. Ferreira notes with pride that most (92 percent) state-appointed apprenticeship training programs in California are offered by unionized labor-management companies and associations. Further, 68 percent of the program participants are people of color and 96 percent of all women in state-approved apprenticeship training are in union programs.

I’ll be interested in seeing how the Elk Grove City Council votes on this proposed agreement this month to see whether they agree with Ferreira that in union(s) there is strength—and that as attractive as risk can be to help someone scale heights he’d always dreamed of, when you’re  spending the public’s money, it’s just a four-letter word.

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Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).