Local 85 apprentice organizes Atlanta union members for historic community service event

July 2, 2024

Union workers from SMART Local 85 (Atlanta, Ga.), IBEW Local 613, IUPAT DC 77 and UA Local 72 joined the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance (USA) and the United States Army Corps of Engineers for a transformative community service project in June, replacing the aging Blockhouse Boat Ramp dock at Lake Allatoona. The successful “Unions Unite” event concluded months of organizing by Local 85 apprentice Dyana Lee, whose dedicated unionism helped make the project a historic one.

“We ended up having over 30 volunteers on site day of, and almost 20 people assisting me behind the scenes to create a $70,000 volunteer event,” Lee explained. “It was one of the largest union volunteer events in Atlanta history, with multiple trades coming together to build and better something for our community while creating a sense of solidarity among union brothers and sisters of Atlanta.”

“Thanks to Dyana’s hard work and determination, this project was a huge success,” added Local 85 Business Manager and SMART General Vice President Steve Langley.

Lee, who recently completed the first year of her apprenticeship, started getting active in her local in January 2023: attending Local 85 Women’s Committee meetings and taking on responsibilities within the committee at the request of chair and Local 85 President Jan Chappell. But the inspiration for a cross-trades, solidarity-driven community service event was sparked in earnest during the 2023 Tradeswomen Build Nations (TWBN) conference in Washington, DC. Lee attended the TWBN all-tradeswomen hike sponsored by the USA, learning about the organization’s conservation and restoration efforts through its Work Boots on the Ground program.

“While I was at the conference, I was inspired by the community, strength and solidarity shown between different trades,” she said. “I took the lessons I learned at TWBN and decided that I would like to spearhead a project in Atlanta to bring people from multiple trades together to give back to our community and start to foster that sense of unitedness between tradespeople.

“With the full support of my local and my mentor, Jan Chappell, I reached out to the USA to start the ball rolling on this idea.”

Lee met with USA Conservation Coordinator Cody Campbell, who walked her through the steps needed to create the type of project she envisioned. Lee then started organizing: attending meetings at other locals in Atlanta, talking to tradespeople at jobsites and eventually contacting Atlanta & North Georgia Building Trades Business Manager Randy Beall (a member of Local 85) to help connect her to other local unions. All told, she spent six months networking with potential volunteers, also delivering a speech at the USA’s Atlanta fundraising dinner to rally her union brothers and sisters to the cause.

In the meantime, Lee and Campbell worked with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to identify a project, eventually landing on the replacement of the courtesy dock at Blockhouse Boat Ramp. The old dock only had a few mooring points for community members, leading to traffic, congestion and safety concerns, and it was no longer ADA-compliant – restricting the number of people that could use the dock and limiting accessibility.

With the project decided, Lee doubled down on her organizing, successfully recruiting dozens of volunteers from other trades. On the day of the project, the skilled volunteer force gathered at 7 a.m., with work starting at 7:45.  

“The temperature was 88 degrees at 6 a.m., and the humidity was off the charts,” said Lee. “However, that didn’t stop my determined team from getting the job done, not only well, but fast.”

The new, accessible boat dock will benefit Atlanta community members for years to come. But to Lee, the impact extended to the worksite, where she said the sense of cross-trade community she was working to foster started to have tangible outcomes. On her job, for example, she started to see workers from different trades gathering for lunch each day, and the environment began to feel more positive and supportive – everyone had each other’s back.

“My goal in organizing and creating the first annual Unions Unite event was to take that first step to building that for every jobsite, for every local,” Lee noted. “This sense of community won’t just create more amicable jobsites; it will help to break down the stigma of being a union member in the eyes of the city, showing that union culture includes a sense of belonging and acceptance for everyone.”

Moving forward, Lee is working with the Georgia Building Trades to collaborate with some of the tradeswomen she met through the Unions Unite event to create a Georgia Building Trades Women’s Committee. She sees that effort as part of a greater endeavor to strengthen and grow the labor movement in Atlanta — and beyond.

“I want the young adults to know that there’s a place for them with us, no matter the trade they go into,” Lee declared. “We are all brothers and sisters; united we stand, divided we fall.”