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For union members, hunting and fishing bring both the thrill of a challenge and time to relax

Adapted from the Minneapolis Labor Review, July 24, 2015

By Steve Share, Minneapolis Labor Review editor

MINNEAPOLIS —Start a conversation with union members about hunting or fishing and you’re going to learn a lot. You learn about a tradition of hunting and fishing passed on from generation to generation. You learn about the trophy elk — and also about the missed shot. You learn that just simply spending time in the outdoors with family and friends is the best part of the experience. You learn that union job makes it all possible.

Here are the stories of three union members sharing their hunting and fishing lives with Labor Review readers.

Plumbers Local 15 member Mark Burch shot this elk in fall 2013 near Rock Springs, Wyoming. “I was on government land we all own and we all have a part of,” he said.

Mark Burch:
Plumbers Local 15 member

On a recent summer evening, Plumbers Local 15 member Mark Burch sat at a table outside a suburban Minneapolis coffeeshop telling a tale about a maybe once-in-a-lifetime elk hunt in the high mountain desert of far-away Wyoming.

“I’ve always wanted to hunt there,” Burch related. “I kept applying and applying for 20 years before I finally drew that permit.”

He planned a two-week plus trip in the fall of 2013. “I planned to bow hunt for the first week to 10 days. That was the most unbelievable fun I’ve ever had, those first days bow hunting,” he said. “That was because of the number of elk and the quality of the elk. Everyday I saw a trophy bull elk.”

The trip was even more special because, for Burch, the chance came after a successful cancer treatment in 2008. After he was diagnosed, he said, one of his wishes: “if I recovered, that I’d be able to go hunt elk one more time.”

Burch’s wife, Cindy, who is an 18-year member of the Robbinsdale Federation of Teachers, added her perspective to the story. “That was such a blessing — to have an opportunity to hunt after going through all that.” She continued, “you have a different lens of looking at life and gratitude and joy.”

Mark Burch: “It made me realize I was married to an angel.”

Back to the hunt. Bow hunting means you need to be close to get a good shot. “There’s nothing more exciting when you’re calling and some massive, huge animal with antlers answers you and starts coming towards you, “ Burch said. “That’s what bow hunting is — you call them in close.”

He added, “I missed two. I hate to say it. I could go on for two hours with the stories.”

Bow hunting one day, Burch related, “I was able to sneak into a heard of about 30 head of elk. I was within about 40 yards of the bull elk… For an amateur old guy, I thought that was pretty good.”

Success came the first day of the rifle season, as Burch hunted with a nephew. After a long day hiking around a drainage, “we got three bulls to answer us back.” They saw one bull, on the other side of the drainage, a half-mile away. One hour of hiking later, Burch saw the elk watching him as he was clear. “I didn’t even hesitate. I stopped and shot.”

“The bull was about 120 yards away,” Burch said. “One shot dropped the bull in its tracks.” His firearm was a 270 caliber Remington 700,  “with 150 grain rounds that I hand-loaded.” Burch added: “I got that rifle when I was 19.”

 “He was just a beautiful elk,” Burch said. “To get one on public land and by yourself [hunting without a guide] was really remarkable.”

Two days later, winter came early to the high mountain desert with a major snowstorm. “Had I waited another day or two, that whole herd might have been gone,” Burch said.

Nearly two years later, “I think we still have a little bit of sausage in the freezer,” Burch said.

“The reason I hunt and fish so much is just the opportunity to be outdoors — especially in the fall,” Burch said. “It’s such a beautiful time of year.”

Burch, 55, has been a member of the Building Trades since he was age 17. For the past 30 years, he’s been a member of Plumbers Local 15.

“I’m a plumber but for years I’ve been a foreman and superintendent,” he said, including working as one of the field supervisors at the new Minnesota Twins stadium.

Burch continued his work for Metropolitan Mechanical Contractors during his cancer treatment and, thanks to his union health insurance, had “unbelievably good coverage” that allowed him choices in his medical care.

For Burch, working as a union Building Trades member is all about “the quality of life, it’s making a decent living wage.”

He has worked in other parts of the country, he said, and “we have a very unique way of life here; I think even a lot of people in the Building Trades don’t realize how unique.”

“The skilled trades in the Minneapolis area, and maybe all of Minnesota, have a very unique relationship with the contractors… It’s a partnership,” Burch said.  “In many places around the country it’s us versus them; It’s not a partnership.”

In Minnesota, Burch said, that partnership and contractors’ investment in the apprentice system produces “a highly-skilled workforce that can earn a decent wage and have more opportunity to travel and enjoy life and spend time with family and friends.”

Mark Burch’s father, Richard Burch, is a former business agent and business manager of Plumbers Local 15. The elder Burch took Mark and his brothers hunting and fishing as they grew up in Brooklyn Center.

Mark and Cindy Burch live in New Hope. The couple — who grew up five blocks apart and attended grade school together —have three adult children and one nine-year-old grandson. Last year, Burch took his grandson goose hunting in South Dakota. “He was the retriever,” Burch joked.

IBEW Local 292’s Pete Lindahl, with help from Junie, competed in the 2014 U.S. Open Pheasant Tournament at the Minnesota Horse and Hunt Club in Prior Lake. Photo: Sheila Mattson

Pete Lindahl:
IBEW Local 292 member

Another union building trades member who grew up in a hunting family — and is passing on that tradition to the next generation — is Pete Lindahl, business manager of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 292. He proudly shared stories about son Jack shooting his first buck and first wild pheasant.

Lindahl, 50, grew up in Minneapolis and attended Dunwoody Institute before joining IBEW as an apprentice in 1987. He served as a Local 292 business representative from 2009-2014 and as financial secretary from 2011-2014. In 2014, he was elected business manager.

His late father, Robert Lindahl, was a 30-plus year member of the Carpenters union and a union general contractor. “Most of my family were union members,” Pete Lindahl reported.

Lindahl lives in Shakopee with his wife Stacey, teen son Jack and teen daughter Lauren. He has access to hunting land nearby in Lakeville and a little further away near New Prague.

“With our busy schedules, it’s nice to have a spot where we can still get together as a family and yet if something comes up still do the jobs we need to do,” Lindahl said. “With this job, it’s nice to have some family time, because it doesn’t happen as often as it should.”

“If all of a sudden I have a Saturday open… off we go,” Lindahl said.

The Lakeville spot is a 25-minute drive from home, with a five-minute walk to the deer stand. “I’ve been hunting there since I was 18 years old,” Lindahl said. “I know it very well.”

Lindahl’s son Jack, then age 14, shot his first buck there — a 10-pointer. “You try to set things up so he gets a chance — it doesn’t always work out that way,” Lindahl said.

Last fall, at age 15, Jack shot his first wild pheasant. “The opportunity came and he had a chance and he shot well and he got that bird,” Lindahl said.

Lindahl hunts with both his teen son and teen daughter. “It’s just so neat to see the young kids doing things in the outdoors,” Lindahl said. “Nowadays the electronic games can seem to take over. You get out in the outdoors, you get some exercise, you’re forced to talk to each other.”

Lindahl said he goes pheasant hunting more now than in years past, with the help of Junie, a seven-year-old Large Munsterlander. “The dog is one of the best things that has happened to us in terms of hunting,” he said. “I don’t need to say a word to this dog — I use a whistle a little bit… She knows what she’s doing and she knows what I’m doing… She’ll run out, make sure she knows where I am,” Lindahl said, so the two are hunting as a team. “I trained her myself with the help of a breeder,” Lindahl said.

Since Junie was 10 months old, she’s joined Lindahl in competing for the past six years in the U.S. Open Pheasant Tournament at the Minnesota Horse and Hunt Club in Prior Lake. “The best I’ve done is sixth place in the Top Gun Pro Puppy Pointer,” Lindahl said. “You’re competing with the professionals,” he noted.

In addition to the competition hunting, Junie is also part of five-day pheasant hunting trips to southern or western Minnesota or South Dakota.  “She’ll go five days in a row without any trouble at all,” Lindahl said. “We typically get our limit. You couldn’t do any of that without the dog.” And, Lindahl said, “she’s a great family pet.”

Lindahl reflected on why so many Building Trades members take part in hunting and fishing. “Jobs all start outside,” he observed, and whether you’re on a jobsite or you’re enjoying time away from work hunting or fishing, “you’re working with your hands.”

“Union labor has provided me and my family with access to firearms, gas to drive where you need to go, lodging, things that otherwise those without a living wage wouldn’t be able to afford,” Lindahl added.

Corey Webster, City Employees Local 363: “My job is labor intense: It is just a welcome program to set up the fishing escape where you can fish and relax.”

Corey Webster:
City Employees Local 363 member

For Corey Webster, “union is kind of in the blood.” Webster, Crystal, is a 15-year member of City Employees Local 363 and currently serves as the local’s vice president. He works for the City of Minneapolis Solid Waste and Recycling Department, where he also is union steward.

His two brothers work for the airlines in union jobs and his father, the late John Webster, was a Teamsters union representative.

Webster, 53, grew up in south Minneapolis but, he related, “we spent a lot of summer up in Superior National Forest. We did a lot of camping and fishing. It’s the way we grew up.”

 “Part of the camping experience was survival,” he added. “We all had to learn how to fish, sometimes with just a stick and fishing line and a hook.”

Webster grew up in a family with eight brothers. “You can’t just put eight boys in a station wagon,” he said. “We had a Greyhound bus that was converted to a camper.” On one family road trip, he remembered, when two of his older brothers sported big Afros, everyone they met was being super friendly to them. “They thought we were the Jackson 5 — how many families of color would be traveling on a bus?”

“Growing up in Minnesota was the best,” Webster said. “With all those seasons, there was so much to do… We had the creek, we had the lakes, we camped in the backyard all the time.”

Now, Webster said, “I actually teach adults to camp.” Webster is an active member of the People of Color Union Members (POCUM) caucus of the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation. In addition to issue advocacy, POCUM has planned camping trips and Webster is sharing his outdoors expertise with POCUM members who didn’t grow up with those experiences. “We’ve become really close and good friends.”

 Webster talked more about his involvement with POCUM. “There’s a lot of injustice out there and inequities that need to be addressed,” he said. “I think I’m a good advocate and a good voice. Sometimes that voice just needs to be heard.”

Since becoming involved in POCUM, Webster said, “I’ve made friends there with people I probably never would have met: electricians, Metro Transit drivers, nurses, teachers. We all have a passion about what we do and where we work and we just want things to be fair.”

For Webster, another passion is fishing. “I like to fish for walleye,” Webster said. “I go to Baudette, Minnesota for every opener.

“I like fishing Lake of the Woods on the Minnesota side and the Canadian side and I like fishing the Rainy River,” he said.

For the past 20 years, Webster reported, he’s been going fishing in Canada near Nestor Falls, Ontario, where he’s made a lot of friends. “I love being up there,” he said. “I know all the resort owners and most of the guides… I’m practically a townie.”

“The thing about fishing is everybody is on the same page,” Webster said. “You make friends easily. You share… It’s just so relaxing and fun.”

“You don’t have to catch fish when you’re up there,” he continued. “There’s no worries in the world — and then there’s the big ones you catch. That makes it all worthwhile.”

Part of the fun of fishing is the company — and banter — with friends, Webster said. “We joust with each other all the time.” One year, he joked with his buddies, he would bring a secret weapon. He showed up with a Ron Popeil “Pocket Fisherman” — and caught a 24-inch walleye.

When Webster and his friends go on a fishing trip, he related, “all we bring is breakfast food and we have to catch our lunch and dinner.”

Some of his fishing buddies are fellow union members, including postal worker Jeffrey Johnson and Minneapolis firefighter Richard Robinson.

Webster is divorced and has a son, 21, and a daughter, 18, but they’re not much interested in fishing, he shared.

“My job is labor intense,” Webster commented, “it is just a welcome program to set up the fishing escape where you can fish and relax.”

Most of his coworkers at the City of Minneapolis Solid Waste and Recycling Department also hunt and fish, Webster reported. At work, he said, “it’s never hard to find somebody to go fishing with or hunting with — which is great.”

 “Sometimes you can work with someone and not know them.” Webster added, “but you get to know them better if you go hunting or fishing.”

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