brotherhood. Not just the slogan on a windshield or hardhat sticker - that doesn’t mean squat to me.

So I did some research, and decided to seek membership in IUOE Local 450. I was sent out on a couple of jobs on permit, but the admittance of new members was frozen at that time. This really bummed out, but I continued to pursue what I had set my mind on…I wanted to be an Operating Engineer! I will never forget the day my application was accepted and my membership was granted. Since it was during the middle of the recession and my family was low on funds, I used credit to borrow for the initiation fees and dues. It was by far the best professional investment I have ever made…even better than the NCCCO testing and certifications I’ve obtained.

The comradely I experienced on our jobsites was pretty hard to believe at first. Operators that were on the equipment that I aspired to run took the time to teach and give me advice on a personal level.  It was almost too good to be true. The fact that my skills, ethics, and commitment were appreciated, and that I was finally getting some respect for who I am and what I have to offer our industry brings tears to my eyes till this day.

I AM a proud member of the International Union of Operating Engineers, local #450.

Danilo Villeda - Local 450


I am a first generation Operating Engineer and a part of the increasing Latino membership in our union, IUOE Local #450. I am a living, breathing testament of how the labor movement increases the quality of life for those who choose to stand up for their rights.

When I first moved to the area, I quickly learned that one’s skill set, reliability, and dedicated work ethic were not at all the only deciding factors for who got to work a job to completion and who got the first lay-off.   My fate on the job was pretty much sealed the moment I introduced myself to the boss. With no indigenous hobbies or culture they could relate to, and with the natural allergic reaction I have for selling my integrity, my head was always placed first on the chopping block.

It seemed no amount of dedication, loyalty, or blood, sweat or tears were enough to change this outcome… and I began to worry for my family’s future here.  I needed protection, equality and the true sense of

me I needed to report back to the hall, and I felt kind of rejected…like I wasn’t good enough for the union. I’ll admit it left a harsh taste in my mouth. Now, I know that was during the early part of the “rebuilding” phase for Local 450, and things are much more organized today.  

Jump forward to the end of 2012.  Who knew something like a social media network and a group page facebook page could get so much attention?  I got approached by the union about my work on the “Brothers of the Hook” group and after our first meeting I was excited. I saw that there was the potential to improve my life and expand the brotherhood that had grown through the facebook group.  Though still under educated about the union, I knew enough that I wanted it badly. I blew up phones daily, I was so excited.

After 3 weeks and 3 different meetings, I got called in for another interview.  I prayed all the way to the meeting. Exactly what I prayed for happened; my life was fixing to change for the better. I’m now going on my 5th month in the union, after spending the majority of my career non-union, and I learn everyday how great of a choice I’ve made. My family’s medical needs are better taken care. The first time I had to go to the doctor, I told them I had insurance and I was treated way better.  It has taken a burden off my shoulders…and my wallet!  Even better than that, knowing that I’m now saving for my future puts my mind at ease.  I know that my kids and grandkids won’t have to foot the bill for me in old age!  

Part of my new job is over in the apprenticeship building, helping pass on the skills I’ve learned over though the years to the next generation of riggers.  We’ll be training them, qualifying them, and certifying them in our craft. As well as teaching them to have confidence in themselves and their job duties.

Even though I face new challenges every day, I don’t feel as stressed as I used to.  I have been on both sides of the fence.  Let me just say, when you are on the wrong side to start with, sometimes the grass really IS greener on the other side!!!

Jason Debler - Local 450

Rigging Instructor/Organizer

I have been on the ship channel since 2007, but my experience dates back to 1999 when I started off as a guide wire tower inspector/builder.  I switched over to ironwork in 2001 and worked all over the south...always non-union...and clueless. I came to the ship channel in 2007 and hired out making $27 per hour as a rigger.  Man, that was the best money I had ever made!  But, no benefits, no pension, not even a 401K!  Yet, because i was under-educated on what was possible, I though I had reached the sweet life!!!

Later on, I rigged some heavy-lift work around union operated cranes.  And then in 2010, I hired out on permit for Maxim at a Bayer plant.  this is where I had my first taste of a union job.  I really enjoyed it and I heard about all of the benefits that came with union work.  I was disappointed when I got laid off.  But, as we all know, that is the industry. 

I ended up going back to working turnarounds, hoping from job to job.  No one had told