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L-D23 boosts education and safety at Cemex plant

L-D23’s Terris Deans, left, and Daniel Jones repair crane cables at the Cemex plant in Clinchfield, Georgia. Both Deans and Jones are in college through the plant’s college education program.

IT WOULD BE enough of an achievement for Local D23 (Clinchfield, Georgia) to have 100% membership at the local Cemex plant in a right-to-work state. But president Carlos Brooks and members of the local don’t settle for the status quo, even if it’s good. A unique partnership between their workplace and union members has Boilermakers looking to the future via a pathway to a two-year college degree, funded by Cemex.

The idea started with Brooks, a five-year Cemex employee. Brooks works in electrical instrumentation, troubleshooting and working on the sims, which monitors gasses and other outflow from the stacks. He also does electrical troubleshooting.

When he first started at Cemex, he sat on the plant’s safety and training committees and soon realized that Cemex needed a training reboot.

Brooks had noticed that older workers clustered together during the day, separate from new, younger employees. In addition, employees trained 20 years ago were training new hires, at times passing along incorrect practices. To compound the problem, people closing in on retirement were often the only employees who knew certain, critical procedures.

So, Brooks asked the plant manager what he planned to do when those longtime workers—the ones keeping to themselves—retired with all their knowledge. No one had a good answer.

The conversation began shifting soon after Brooks met with Dr. Hugo Bolio, Cemex USA’s executive vice president of cement operations and technology, when he visited the plant over two years ago.

“We need to train better,” Brooks told Bolio. “We can’t get accurate training from some guy who was trained 20 years ago. I only know what he knows. It’s also a safety issue. Someone is going to get hurt one day.”

He drove the point home by talking about the future and ever-changing technology. If training doesn’t keep up, he asked “what will Cemex do when technology overtakes the skill level of employees?”

Brooks kept raising the issue with Cemex, and they finally agreed to revamp training—including providing training to some current workers through a two-year college technical school program at Central Georgia Technical College. The college program, which Brooks said began about a year ago, allows for a current employee to bid on a job opening within the company. Certain jobs at Cemex allow for employees to take advantage of the free college program.

Employees receive their full salary and full benefits while going to school, and they receive a paycheck whether they’re at school or on the job—or even at home studying. They are also eligible for overtime hours. And, there’s no requirement for the employees to continue working at Cemex after they earn their degree.

Currently, Local D23 has five members enrolled in the program. One of those Boilermakers is Terris Deans, who is on track to graduate in May with a degree in industrial systems. The four-year employee of Cemex is learning information at school he applies to his current role as a mechanic maintenance repairman.

“This is a great opportunity to get a degree for free,” Deans said. “When I first started, I was excited and a bit overwhelmed. It had been nearly 20 years since I opened up a textbook.”

School is going well. Deans is looking toward the future. He’s wondering if a bachelor’s degree is in the cards for him. He’s considering moving into a different role at Cemex if he obtains one.

“I really wish more employees would take advantage of [free college],” Deans said. “It will be helpful in the long run for them and for the company.”

In addition to brokering the college program for members, Brooks also encouraged the company to update their employee training overall. As a result, Cemex brought in simulated electrical training. The new computer training covers everything employees do in the field.

“We’re trying to make sure we’re ready for the future,” Brooks said. “Everything is going to automation; and we have to be up to speed on technology so we’re not left behind.”

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L-D23 president Carlos Brooks coaches kid’s track and field in his off hours. Brooks stands with his daughters, Adrianna, at left, and Aryanna. Both girls are track stars in the Amateur Athletic Union and USA Track.

L-D23 president Carlos Brooks coaches kid’s track and field in his off hours. Brooks stands with his daughters, Adrianna, at left, and Aryanna. Both girls are track stars in the Amateur Athletic Union and USA Track.

Brooks volunteers coaching kids track and field

LOCAL D23 PRESIDENT Carlos Brooks has his hands full between work and home, but that hasn’t stopped him from building into the lives of young boys and girls. He volunteers his time coaching kids in track and field within the city recreation department in Warner Robins, Georgia. When coaching for the rec department ends for the summer, he rolls the young athletes that want to participate into summer youth leagues: Amateur Athletic Union and USA Track and Field.

“When I grew up, I didn’t have this,” Brooks said. “I always felt like if I could give back, I would.”

And he does, every summer. Many of the kids he coaches go on to AAU and USATF regional and national competitions. This summer, he took four student athletes to the AAU Jr. Olympics in Greensboro, North Carolina. Two of those competitors were his daughters, 9-year-old Adrianna and 11-year-old Aryanna.

The girls, both top track stars, finished the season strong. Aryanna earned the AAU’s overall seventh place rank for 80-meter hurdles. Adrianna brought home the gold in the triathlon for both the AAU club championship and also the AAU Jr. Olympics. The mayor of Warren Robbins Georgia awarded Aryanna the key to the city for her Jr. Olympic gold win.