The World of Multiemployer Benefit Funds Podcast

Union Matters: the Brotherhood & the Sisterhood with Elizabeth Murray-Belcaster

September 09, 2021 Traci Dority-Shanklin Season 3 Episode 14
The World of Multiemployer Benefit Funds Podcast
Union Matters: the Brotherhood & the Sisterhood with Elizabeth Murray-Belcaster
Show Notes Transcript

The union brotherhood and sisterhood are committed to more than its own membership. When 9/11 happened, the Teamsters mobilized truckloads of cell phones and radios to rescue workers. Elizabeth Murray-Belcaster, the CEO of EMB Consultants who consults on training to placement programs with the Department of Defense and trade unions, rejoins the podcast. Elizabeth shares how the brotherhood and the sisterhood have impacted diversity, three presidential administrations, and the Department of Defense’s SkillBridge program.

Some highlights from Union Matters: The Brotherhood & the Sisterhood include:

02:01 – Will the Welder
06:38 – Industry Stakeholders and Millennials
11:07 – Obama, Trump, and Biden…
14:26 – The Only Woman in the Room
19:50 – Union Proud: The Teamsters!

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Narrator  0:02  

This is The World of Multiemployer Benefit Funds Podcast with Traci Dority-Shanklin, if you're interested in labor union benefit funds, well, you've landed in the right place. We are a go-to source for all things union benefit fund-related, and we are going to bring you interviews with key decision-makers and fund professionals that guide these plans. They'll share their insights, experience, unique perspectives, all of the latest developments, and tips to unlock the mysteries of multiemployer benefit funds. Time is short, so let's get started.


Traci Shanklin  0:35  

Thank you for tuning in. We have been talking with Elizabeth Murray-Belcaster, president of EMB Consultants. Elizabeth is an expert in strategic development of training to placement for veterans into the private sector across the country. In our first conversation, Liz had been sharing her work with several Building Trades unions, the Teamsters, and the US military veterans in conjunction with the Department of Defense. At the close of our first episode, Liz was telling us about the Department of Defense's SkillBridge program. The SkillBridge Program is a policy that allows service members within 180 days of separation to enter a DOD-approved training to placement program. Liz makes an important distinction about the SkillBridge program, where she explains that SkillBridge is available for active military. In the end, these military professionals will become veterans, but by definition, they have not entered that category. Ultimately, all these union-veteran training programs and training to placement and mentorship programs contribute to the financial and mental health needs of our veterans. Let's return to Elizabeth Murray-Belcaster as she highlights the successes of these programs with a personal story.


Elizabeth Murray-Belcaster  2:01  

The overall umbrella right now for the unions that are doing training is called the Union Veterans Council. Will Attig is the director of the Union Veterans Council. Will is like my third son. Will and I traveled the state of Illinois together. Will came back to a really difficult time in his life to rural Illinois. They had no programs down in the neighborhood in which he lives. And the Governor of Illinois asked me if we could set up a pilot down there for welders. There was a welding school that didn't have candidates in there but they had money, so we turned it into a Helmets to Hardhats program. 


Elizabeth Murray-Belcaster  2:38  

Will is one of the folks that went through that program. He was struggling with school. He was in - in school in college, was struggling with what to do with his life, and had his own personal journey and ended up going in this program. And at some point, the Governor of Illinois was calling him "Will the Welder." I don't know if you remember at the time that where there was "Pete the Plumber" or something like that, and Will became "Will the Welder" and started going out and telling his story. Come 10 years later, two years ago, Will was appointed as the National Director of the AFL-CIO Union Veterans Council. There's been an effort an ongoing effort since that 2009 collapse, if not even prior to that I'm sure, to hire veterans.


Elizabeth Murray-Belcaster  3:20  

Many of our union leaders are veterans themselves. Many of our union leaders have family members that have been in the service. And they've seen their family members come back and struggle. It's not always easy just to give them the pathway. You really have to have the supports aligned with it. When it's the Union and the company, the contract and employer that come to the table together, that's another piece that they build into it -- having those mentors there that are union members, welcoming those service members into their space. 


Elizabeth Murray-Belcaster  3:50  

The Brotherhood and The Sisterhood of a union looks very much like the Brotherhood and a Sisterhood of the military. And I will tell you, I even say that the governments of the unions looks very much like the government of the military, you know, you have your leadership from the top level from DOD. That goes down to the garrisons which is the installations. And then the garrison commanders are pretty much the mayors of the town. Very similar to how unions look. You have your top-tier national offices, and then you have your joint councils, and then you have your locals. It's really not that far off from each other. And I think we all started seeing that as we were moving forward in understanding. I have seen the big turnaround over the years of military leaders, who probably at some point may would have not ever had a conversation with a union leader and/or in the union space. And I was there and witnessed how that changed. And that looks very, very different today. 


Elizabeth Murray-Belcaster  4:47  

I was on a call a couple weeks ago with the Air Force and although the DOD instruction comes out of the Department of Defense, the military services are all doing things at their own pace. They know that they can let the servicemembers separate within that 180 days, but also the understanding of where they're going. The liability is still on the services. They still work under the umbrella of the services, whatever services this is, whether it's the Army, Air Force, Navy, Coast Guard. So, those services are being extra careful and vetting the employers, too. This isn't just like simply where you can just say, "Hey, I'm an employer, I have a job." Like there's some vetting that's happening here. You really have to be able to go in and showcase and do what you say you're going to do. There is follow-up. 


Elizabeth Murray-Belcaster  5:32  

And we often do after assessments of the programs that we do, so we're always learning from it. But there's after assessment on sides of the military installations themselves, and the overall services do after assessments as well. If you say you're going to go in and you're going to hire 15, and you've got a pilot in a training program, you've got to have those numbers to come back with. And that hasn't always been the case, when they first started these programs, a lot of them failed, and services had to regroup and rethink what that look like. I would say that under the umbrella of the AFL-CIO, we all know that's the big union that that's the enterprise right of all unions at some level, not all unions, but most unions. The Union Veterans Council is really just recently put together a workforce committee. Now we're blending the programs that we have to rebuild our country infrastructure, which is a normal union backdrop, marrying that up with the programs of putting service members to work makes a whole lot of sense. And that's where the Union Veterans Council and so many of the unions that are participating on that council are really coming together with some great resources and answers. 


Traci Shanklin  6:38  

It's amazing. I want to make a little bit of a pivot here. Thank you for that explanation. Support for unions is at an all-time high. According to a September 2020 Gallup poll, 65% of Americans surveyed favored labor unions. I can't help but think that many of these veteran programs are applicable for recruiting and frankly, reminding our upcoming generation that trade jobs are career jobs. You mentioned that earlier that these are career tracks. There's a need for us to educate and activate this up-and-coming generation and to capitalize on this favorability and goodwill towards unions, has EMB Consultants participated in any conversations to create an education or organizing initiative outside of these veteran training programs? 


Elizabeth Murray-Belcaster  7:28  

Even the meeting I was at yesterday in Maryland, we had talked about Job Corps and some of the things that you could do with high school students. And I think independently, we have to get more creative as unions, and we have to get more creative as industry stakeholders on how we are going to recruits this generation millennials. I have complete and utter faith in millennials. I think it was you and I that talked about how these campaigns are now doing their own unions. Digital designers has their own union. It's the evolution of change that I think millennials love to see. And they're very progressive in that space. But the history of the union is super important to keep as part of that track. I have been at many tables, and I will tell you the tables of talking about veterans' training or service members' training, it always equates to what the outcomes and deliverables are for industry gaps and filling industry gaps. It should always be part of the conversation in my opinion, with every conversation that you have about industry gaps and infrastructure. 


Elizabeth Murray-Belcaster  8:32  

And this administration is making a lot of big huge commitments about infrastructure. We're saying we want to bring back manufacturing. And if we don't engage with new union members, new workers, and learn how to be creative in our thinking, and in our training, we're not going to be able to fill those gaps. The promise of all of that has got to come with the worker. You can exchange money, and you can exchange dollars, but if you can't fill those gaps. You've got to be willing to spend some of that money on being creative with training. I will tell you an interesting story. I have an aviation program that I'm doing with the Teamsters. And I have a lot of friends from the military, and a retired helicopter pilot who is now working on this program with three of his buddies very innovative, on utilizing gaming as a tool to bring in service members and to programs. And one of the things that kind of I saw with my own eyes is how they're using gaming to redefine pulling apart a motor, an aircraft motor, and it's [amazing. I've] been at some of those tables and there really is an effort of ongoing, "How do we change to learn and learn to change," because we have to get creative in some of those spaces.


Traci Shanklin  9:50  

I just had a conversation yesterday with somebody who was talking about education and the future of education. Most people who are innovators are looking at the gaming industry as the future of education. I thought it was a wonderful little idea, I mean, it's not a little idea. It's a big idea. I talk a lot about brand ethos, especially where my podcast is concerned because I think it's really important that people understand what you believe. And he was sharing with me that companies, and I'm not even sure which company it was, but it was Frito Lay or could have been Nabisco, for all I know, I don't really remember, but that they're getting behind this educational concept where they can give learners incentives every time they reach another level. So every time they ratchet up to the next year, and that by the end of, say, a child's education, by the time they finish high school, they could have a $10,000 scholarships sitting for them for their future for their career choice, whether it be vocational or educational, I mean, going on to university. So, I think it's really fascinating that you mentioned that it's just timely. 


Traci Shanklin  11:07  

You actually mentioned that you've worked under three presidents and their administrations, so the Obama, Trump, and now Biden. That must be both exciting, you've said this earlier, and frustrating because you almost have to start from ground zero every time a new administrator comes in. But, I would imagine that there are certain times when an election is happening, that there's some anxiety. Did you experience any modifications to your programs with each different administration, or is the program had continuity, and it's just about educating the new administration?


Elizabeth Murray-Belcaster  11:44  

For me, it's about how they embrace it. It's really to their benefit to embrace these programs in my opinion. I came in at the end of the Bush administration. That's really where we started. There was no Department of Labor under the Bush administration. There was just no labor there. And that was kind of where we got creative and said, "We never intentionally went into this to engage with governments." It just was not designed to be that. But, as it started impacting government numbers, and government, quite frankly, agencies had a lot of these veterans in their space. When we first started this, there was no access to veterans. We didn't have these programs where we could go in and talk to the military and say, "Hey, we've got this." And at that time, the military was like, "They're not going home. I'm keeping them." And that conversation of the evolution, the lifecycle of a soldier, the lifecycle of a service member, really wasn't that prominent. 


Elizabeth Murray-Belcaster  12:35  

So, the messaging changes a little bit, you know, administration, by administration. Michelle Obama and Jill Biden, kind of, we're very focused on the Joining Forces, I think the Biden administration, at some level, is going more on the direction of spouses' training as well, which we've always done, that's never been discluded. And I think I would like to be very, very clear on that. I think every training program that we've stood up, still needs work. We still need the government to fund an appropriate money for these programs; administrators who are contracted employers that are being paid to administrate these programs. As the programs are getting bigger, and more service members are engaging, we have to appropriate for that, too. Not fulfilling that and going into the next thing, to me, is always a little bit irresponsible. And I think we need to be very responsible on how we continue to service our service members with programs that are in-house. 


Elizabeth Murray-Belcaster  13:34  

And at some level, we don't want the service members to get lost in this because we stopped for a minute. And that's for everybody. That's engagement. It's for all parties; it's for the union; it's for the employer. And I will say, the union and employer, for the most part, they're not going to split hands and flip switches, those industries, and their learning tools remain the same. At some level, they'll accelerate and that will only to be the benefit. But, while industry is doing that, we need to make sure that government is also doing that. And like there needs to be a checklist, in my opinion, under the umbrella of the Department of Defense or a checklist when leaving, "This is what's important. This is what's next; don't take your eye off of this." Because if it fails, or if it's not handled with some urgency, immediacy from administration to administration, somebody could fall through the cracks. And in this space that we don't want to see that happen.


Traci Shanklin  14:26  

Clearly, you have a longstanding relationship and a connection with unions. You have also been among a small group of women who and I quote the play, Hamilton, "Were in the room where it happened." And we are witnessing a shift in awareness in all industries thanks to the Time's Up, #MeToo, and Black Lives Matters. And the change has forced firms to evaluate their internal diversity, their supplier diversity report cards, especially in the investment industry where I live. Could you please speak about changes to hiring practices you may have witnessed or leadership or development programs that unions have implemented, or programs that you've participated in to foster empowering women?


Elizabeth Murray-Belcaster  15:10  

I know a lot of women that have been kind of trailblazers in this space. But, they were never really recognized to be trailblazers, and with the #MeToo movement with the Black Lives Matters, the diversity and the who's on the stage, so to speak, instead of who's in the audience is looking very, very different. But, I do think that's also, we're not giving enough credit to the people that sat at the table. I think you and I shared a story where I was sitting with, and I won't say whether it was a military audience, a union audience or, or who the folks were that I was sitting with, but there was a conversation about women's needs, and I was the only woman in the room. And it was like layers of things that women needed to succeed in this genre. And without saying the genre, I'll say, I was the only woman in the room. And it was all men talking about what women need. And I was like, "Huh, like, you all know, I'm a woman, right?" Yeah, it was just crazy. That understanding that there needs to be more women at the table unequivocally, and should have been there many, many years ago, from the forefront of it, many of them were there at some level. 


Elizabeth Murray-Belcaster  16:15  

It was always interesting to me that they wanted to do good things for women in specific spaces. But, it was only men at the table making those decisions. And although it was a good idea, they should have brought some women into the room to make those changes with them. And I think that's my point. I think that everybody's intentions at some level are good. I think men are eager to see women succeed in the space and probably, in the history of unions have seen many women that they've worked with over the years that they wanted to see in those positions. I'm thrilled to see it happening for myself for my granddaughter is for - for everybody. And then the other thing, too, is the diversity issue. I think that is something that's really come full circle. Not only are we seeing women, we're seeing women of all cultures from all backgrounds. And really some of the cultural pieces of this really affect those rural areas. That will be a game-changer for the future for a lot of people. And we can't ever step away from that. We have to keep being progressive in that space as well. 


Traci Shanklin  17:16  

A conversation I had with secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO, Elizabeth Shuler, was around this topic. And she mentioned that women are half of the workforce and that women will be half of the labor movement by 2025. So, these are women that are bold and powerful, and still have to fight to be seen as equals in many cases.


Elizabeth Murray-Belcaster  17:41  

I will tell you, it's interesting and intimidating. And it's also at some level you leave wanting to go back because you know that the opinions of others still is desired and needed in this space. Some days, it wasn't like I was at the table because I was a leader in any space. I was there to inform people but still being there at the table to inform them about specific subject matters. That's what a consultant does. You go in learning so much more. I often say I learned so much every day, no matter how far I've come, there's always room to learn more. And Liz Shuler is absolutely right. It's just something that needs to be progressive. But, we are a big force. 


Elizabeth Murray-Belcaster  18:26  

I did want to add to Cheryl Johnson also created the Teamsters' women's caucus, and almost every union has a women's caucus now. And if they don't, they're living somewhere else because I was able to go to my very first women's caucus meeting was probably about four years into the foundation, the inception of her creating the program. And what they did is they brought in women from all different industries who really had to fight to get there, not just to get the union job, but to get the union leadership, the employment leadership position, the job that they wanted, the job that they were going for, and with all of the struggles that women face from sexual harassment to just inherent things as single moms that you face, the challenges of getting there, because you have so many other responsibilities, those stories that I was able to sit and be a part of and watch as an audience member for the Teamsters women's caucus, changed my life forever. Like it really gave me an understanding of not only the work that I do for service members but those female servicemembers that come out. And there's so much focus even with this administration on sexual harassment, inclusiveness, all of that is critically important that it was something that I saw from a very early time in my career. To see it come full circle is really a pleasure and an honor to have witnessed it to be quite honest with you.


Traci Shanklin  19:50  

You have a great story about how you got your first job working with the Teamsters. Can you share how your union partnership began again?


Elizabeth Murray-Belcaster  20:00  

I was just doing some political campaigns in Chicago and I often say you can run a political campaign in Chicago, you can do anything in the world. A lot of lessons in that business as well. And worked very closely with the unions with the Teamsters gentleman by the name of Mick Yauger, who was a long-standing Vietnam veteran, but a really, really hard-working leader in the Teamsters community in Chicago. Mick was appointed by Jim Hoffa as president to become the National Teamsters Veterans Military person. He was the guy that would be traveling the country. The first thing that he had been asked to do was to help stand up a program with the Building Trades from further Helmets to Hardhats program in Chicago. So, Mick called me and he said, "Can you help me out? I know, you know, some people and certain places. Can we put together a program?" 


Elizabeth Murray-Belcaster  20:50  

And the first Helmets to Hardhats public venue ever was in Chicago at Navy Pier. We brought in all the state agencies, every state agency that we knew had jobs that veterans could apply to that day. We brought in leadership from the Building Trades. We brought in the first executive director of Helmets to Hardhats, Daryl Roberts. He was driving to Chicago. He just got the position. He really didn't know much about what was going to happen. And we had a beautiful stage set up at Navy Pier, which is a beautiful space in Chicago. And I remember being on the phone with Daryl as he was driving in and he's like, "What are we doing?" I was like, "Don't worry, it'll be fine." We brought everybody in. I mean, we - we did a great job. And we ended up getting 600 veterans from Illinois jobs that day, but really lent it to the opportunity of showcasing the union support to veterans that very day. And it was covered by all the local media stations. All the unions at some level had tracked it on their websites. And it was a great way to kind of get the message out to support veterans. 


Elizabeth Murray-Belcaster  21:53  

Cheryl Johnson, who was the vice president of Teamsters, so I keep talking about, she was one of the people that came in to see the program and she said, "Meet me at the airport." And I said, "I was so nervous. This wasn't my space." I didn't think it was it was a nervous wreck. I had so much angst, so I went and met her at the airport. And she said, "I gotta get on a plane. But I want to tell you my story." And her story, which she probably tells way better than I do, is that she was an abused spouse, leaving her marriage, there was a union hall up the street from her. And she knew the only way out is if she had her own income and her own job. And she walked up to that union hall. And she said, "I saw that you guys hire women, and I'm a woman, and I need a job." I was going through my own divorce at the time; it was really a difficult time, but I was wide open to this, but a nervous wreck, like so nervous. And she really scaled me down. When she told me her story. Her story was my story. And I felt so much a level of comfort like I can't even tell you. It was just that important. And I will say that's a story for everybody, whoever you think you're in the room with. 


Elizabeth Murray-Belcaster  23:03  

Everybody has a backstory. Number one, don't be intimidated by those people. But number two, value yourself as well. I think that's such an important message to so many people. You think that you are the only one and you're really not there's -- everybody has a multitude of issues and problems. And, you know, we've just kind of traveled that journey together. And Cheryl called me. And she said, "I just had a meeting with - with Jim Hoffa." And you know, to me it's Jim Hoffa, my dad's guys, you know, these are the guys that all my brothers look up to. And I'm just like, "What, this is crazy." She's like, "You know, we can only get you, I won't say the dollar amount, X amount of dollars, and it was triple of what I was making doing political campaigns. And quite frankly, with campaigns candidates don't always pay. Like if they're losing, they're like, "I ran out of money. Yeah, we don't have enough. Can you do another fundraiser for me?"


Elizabeth Murray-Belcaster  23:52  

And you're pretty much raising your own salary when you're doing campaigns. So, when she told me the amount, I literally almost fell to the ground. And I called my kids and they were so excited and so proud because it had been a struggle for me. I was really going from my own really abusive marriage and situation and trying to get my kids into a better place. And this was kind of the answer to all of that. And it worked out. And I was really, really lucky. But, I never ever took it for granted, I will tell you. I appreciate every union labor leader that's taught me anything at all. I appreciate the organization and the organizational things that the unions do for communities: the women's caucuses, the veterans' caucuses, and the other thing that I say a lot and I said it in two meetings: one this morning and one yesterday. The reason you don't hear a lot from the unions on the marketing of this is the unions are very busy doing union work. Every single day, they go to work and they fight for the working people. And that is their focus. And if they've been successful in training and placing service members or veterans that was their job. Who the audience is, it's important to them, it's part of their moral compass, but at some level, it's still putting working families to work. And that's their mission. That's always been their mission since hundreds of years ago. That doesn't change. 


Elizabeth Murray-Belcaster  25:14  

However, I know folks like yourself and myself would like to see more people understand how important that is. When 9/11 happened. Cheryl Johnson was vice president at the time, and she immediately got a phone call from somebody that was a Teamster, on the ground, they couldn't get access to any mobile phones or radios. Cheryl made that direction. She was the Human Rights Commissioner for the Teamsters at the time and got trucks and trucks of mobile phones and radios down there for them to utilize. Those are the kinds of stories that I guarantee you every union in the country had their footprints at 9/11 in some way, shape, or form. That is what they do. They go and they work hard. And then they leave the scene. And some days, they're recognized for it. Most days, they're not, but they should be. And I think that a lot of people miss that. The old school conversations of the unions are thugs and bullies, they're really not. They're kind of a bunch of great teddy bears, with a lot of motivation, and a lot of resources that really employ so much of our good work ethic in America.


Traci Shanklin  26:20  

I love that. I think that's a great place for us to close. Thank you so much. I really want to thank you for the work you do. It's quite literally changing lives. And I say it all the time, but the list of positive things that the unions are doing is endless. And the work EMB Consultants is doing in partnership with labor unions is just a perfect example.


Elizabeth Murray-Belcaster  26:42  

Thank you for the opportunity. It’s been great.


Traci Shanklin  26:44  

Thank you so much for having this conversation. And joining me on the podcast. You have been listening to The World of Multiemployer Benefit Funds. And this concludes my two-part conversation with Elizabeth Murray-Belcaster, the president of EMB Consultants. I hope you've enjoyed today's podcast. Please subscribe to us and leave us a five-star review on your favorite podcast platform. You can always find us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Pandora, iHeartRadio, and many other podcast platforms. You can also subscribe to our monthly newsletter at our website at That's Thanks again for joining the conversation where listeners connect with leading experts through the multiemployer world. Be part of the change. 


Traci Shanklin  27:43  

And that's it for this week's episode of The World of Multiemployer Benefit Funds Podcast. We'd love to hear from you. And if you have any comments, questions, or suggestions, head over to and let us know. Thank you for joining us and we look forward to next time.


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