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Union members share hunting and fishing lives with friends and family

Adapted from the Minneapolis Labor Review, July 22, 2023

By Steve Share, Minneapolis Labor Review editor

MINNEAPOLIS —On the calendar, July 15 marks the mid-point of the three months of summer. Many Minnesotans and union members are spending summer weekends fishing and boating “up north” at the cabin or at lakes close to home. But, at summer’s mid-point, many of us also now have an eye turning towards the fall — and, for the hunters among us, plans for deer hunting or pheasant hunting soon will begin to take shape.

For this annual feature story, three union members shared their hunting and fishing lives and how these outdoor pursuits intersect with their work as union members: Vergel Wason, retired Carpenters union member  and union leader; Vanessa Kaiser, member of Laborers Local 563; and Richard Shorter, IUE-CWA member and union staff representative.

Vergel Wason

Three generations of Carpenters union members hunting snow geese in Saskatchewan: Vergel Wason (second from left), with stepson Mike Busch (left), and grandson Robert Busch (third from left), plus a friend (right).

Vergel Wason:
Carpenters retiree

Vergel Wason, retired Carpenters union member and union leader, easily talks about his long union career and his life-long love of hunting.

Born and raised in St. Paul and now living in Forest Lake, Wason, age 85, graduated from St. Paul’ s Murray High School in 1956, joined the U.S. Army, and in 1959 joined Carpenters Local 87.

“I get my 65-year pin next year,” Wason says proudly, adding that his family now includes of four generations of union carpenters — his dad Ray Nelson, stepson Mike Busch, and grandson Robert Busch.

During Wason’s years in the field, he worked for the region’s biggest contractors — McGough, Mortenson, Ryan — at jobsites including bridges, oil refineries and the IDS tower.

He became a business agent for Carpenters Local 87 and rose in elected union leadership to serve as executive secretary of the Minnesota Statewide District Council of Carpenters. After 16 years serving in union leadership, he retired in 1998.

“I’ve done a lot of fishing over the years, but I enjoy hunting the best,” Wason says. “I’ve been going hunting in Canada for probably 65 years.”

Over the past 20 years, he says, those Canadian trips took him to Saskatchewan to hunt ducks, geese, and sandhill cranes — but primarily snow geese.

“The snow geese are ruining the tundra,” he reports. “They kind of exploded… They’re moving across the tundra, eating all the vegetation so nothing comes back… They’re trying to thin them out.” That’s led the U.S. and Canadian governments to have higher limits for snow geese, he explains.

“I’ve had a flock of 5,000 circling overhead,” Wason relates. He  and his hunting partners will put out 400 decoys to attract the snow geese. But, he adds, “they don’t decoy like they used to… When you start shooting, you’re educating that whole  flock…They have wised-up.”

While hunting spring snows in Nebraska in March of this year, Wason relates, his hunting party of seven shot 55 geese from a pit one day.  But “the next day and the day after that, we didn’t fire a shot… You could see them passing in the distance but they didn’t decoy.”

“It’s kind of a goofy game,” he says. “They’re frustrating but also a lot of fun.”

And, Wason says of the snow geese, “they’re fair eating” and their meat will make good beer sticks, brats, and summer sausage.

Above all, Wason enjoys being outdoors and “the chase.” Explaining building trades members’ connection  to hunting, he says simply, “building trades people are  outdoors people.” And, he jokes, “stupid enough to lay in the mud.”

Vanessa Kaiser

Laborers Local 563 member Vanessa Kaiser with two largemouth bass at Lake Waconia May 13, 2023 — the first day of the 2023 fishing opener. “This is what I tournament fish for,” she says. She reported on Instagram: “the wind and getting poured on didn’t stop us from a great day on the water. Caught over 20 bass.” Follow her on Instagram at Vanessa_Fishing.

Vanessa Kaiser:
Laborers Local 563

“Fishing and hunting is a way for us blue collar folks to have peace,” says Vanessa Kaiser, who is three years into a career with Laborers Local 563.

“With our types of jobs, the hard work we do, waking up early in the morning, it’s pretty much go, go, go.” Fishing and hunting, she says, “gives us something to look forward to come the weekend.”

“My whole family fishes. They hunt. It’s just something I grew up on,” Kaiser says. “It helps me take my stress away from work and the kids and household chores.”

Kaiser shares the story of her path to a career in the building trades, telling a story both unique and familiar. “I’m a single mom of two kids,” Kaiser says. “I was going through a divorce.” She was working in health care but not earning enough. “I wanted a good-paying job that had benefits and a pension.”

“I made a post on Facebook and asked if any of my friends knew how I could join construction,” Kaiser recounts. She applied to Michels and was hired. She now works for the City of Minneapolis driving trucks.

Because Kaiser initially entered the trade through working on pipelines,  she  says, she hasn’t gone through a traditional apprenticeship. But she has made a point to go to the Laborers training center and get all the training an apprentice would get — including welding, rigging and signaling as well as a Class A Commercial Driver’s License — “so I would look valuable to employers in the field.”

That desire to learn new skills extends to Kaiser’s fishing: “I do tournament bass fishing,” she says. “I like the skills you learn…Every time you’re on the water you learn something new,” including “learning from other anglers.

Kaiser is in a tournament bass fishing league with 11 other boats. She and her teammate are the only women, “fishing against all men,” she reports.

For Kaiser, tournament fishing “teaches you to be competitive” and  “teaches you how to be humble when it comes to the sport of fishing.”

 “I have ‘LIUNA’ on my tournament jersey,” notes Kaiser, who says she also has landed a few sponsors and is on the pro-staff team for a fishing lure company.

Kaiser also serves as a youth coordinator for Future Anglers of Minnesota, a program which mentors youth and teaches fishing skills and life skills. “Seeing the kids fish — that’s our future,” Kaiser says.

Richard Shorter, IUE-CWA staff representative, catches a northern pike on Beaver Lake on St. Paul’s east side. Fishing has become a new passion for him.

Richard Shorter:
IUE-CWA member

“When the pandemic started, things were kind  of weird. I was looking for any reason to get outside,” recalls Richard Shorter, St. Paul, who is a staff representative for IUE-CWA and is responsible for 20-plus contracts in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois.

Shorter’s  friend Eric Salminen, who works for SEIU Healthcare, invited him to go ice-fishing with another friend on Peltier Lake in Centerville. But Shorter, a native of Virginia who moved to Minnesota in 2014, says “as a southern boy, I was scared to death.” He gave it a try, however. “We sat there and ice-fished. I had no idea what I was doing.”

Just being outside, hanging out with friends, and awaiting a bite — it took. He hadn’t fished since age 13, Shorter reports. But now, “I literally — no  pun intended — got hooked.”

Come spring, Salminen told him, “we have to go kayak fishing.” So they did. “I caught my first big bass,” Shorter says.

Soon Shorter was buying his own kayak and all his own fishing gear. “I’m all in,” he says. “Prior to fishing, it was paintball,” he says, and he even played pro paintball for two decades.

Now, Shorter is part of a “fishing circle” with Salminen, Minnesota AFL-CIO staffer Todd Dahlstrom, and another fishing friend. “It’s been a very cool way to develop friendships and get away from the crazy, stressful work we do,” Shorter says.

Plus, “I have a three-year-old son now and he said he wanted to go fishing,” Shorter says. They rode their  bikes to Beaver  Lake, one block  from their St. Paul home. “He caught his first fish at the beginning of the summer. It was a great experience!”

While working now for IUE-CWA in Minnesota, Shorter is a member of the CWA staff union but also retains his membership in his home local, IUE-CWA Local 82162 in Roanoke, Virginia. There he worked in a factory which produced night vision goggles for the US military and served as the vice president of his local. He also became involved with IUE-CWA in organizing other worksites.

 “I was raised in a small factory town,” Shorter relates. But now, he says, “the whole town is a ghost town of factories due to NAFTA.” His parents worked in the textile and furniture industries. “Both of my parents one time or another were union but those jobs went away,” he says. “I learned first-hand as a child the struggle of the working class.”

Related story:
Game Fair 2023 runs August 11, 12, 13, 18, 19, 20
(Minneapolis Labor Review, July 22, 2023)

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