Jason Garand, the John William Bennett Fellow in Special Collections, links the past and future of unionized carpenters in the Commonwealth
By Christine Turner, Scholarly Communications Librarian
A journeyman carpenter, a union organizer, and now, in his retirement, a research fellow, Jason Garand knows how to build bridges between people, as well as bridges that connect the past, present, and future.
Garand saw his retirement in 2019 as an opportunity to steward the legacy of his union and its members. With deep knowledge and palpable respect for his forebears who created the first United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America (UBC) local in the Pioneer Valley in 1885, Jason hoped to share their works with future generations, including his son, Nathan, who became a UBC journeyman in 2015.
The fellowship Garand was awarded, offered by Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA), supports research in and writing on the history of labor, work, and industry, honoring the legacy of labor historian and activist John William Bennett. Bennett ’52 began researching the history of the labor movement as an undergraduate at UMass Amherst. A born collector, he accumulated memorabilia associated with unions, drawn to their potential as a visual record of labor iconography and
One of the hopes for the fellowship was to attract nonacademic researchers to delve into the archives, and Garand fits the bill. When he was a newly minted UBC journeyman, Garand called on Dan O’Connell Construction in 1991 looking for work. The boss asked two questions: “Are you afraid of heights?” and “Are you afraid of enclosed areas?” Garand responded no to both and was sent under the Palmer, Massachusetts, bridge on the Mass Pike in blazing summer heat to build decking to catch construction debris. That November, he went to Rowe to construct a concrete dam through the darkest, coldest months of winter.
Garand gained his skills to accomplish these feats through four years of training with UBC’s apprenticeship program. Local 108’s organizer, Simon James, had visited Dean Vocational School in Holyoke where Garand was enrolled. After talking with James, Garand realized that a union job was the best path to a good income, safe working conditions, health insurance, and a retirement plan.
Before Garand completed his apprenticeship, he responded to the union’s call to volunteer. He was elected to the executive board and served as a steward on several projects. In 1995, Garand was selected as an organizer. Garand’s last construction job before becoming a full-time union employee was restoring Springfield’s Memorial Bridge. By then he had grown to appreciate the professional standards and quality of work produced by union labor, as well as the collective power of people working together to safeguard and improve their livelihoods. “Unionized employees are the givers in their communities,” Garand says. “They have the time, stability, and well-being to be the coaches, school committee members, and volunteers who serve
He was aware that UBC locals had donated records to UMass Amherst in the 1980s so, shortly before his retirement in 2019, Garand contacted Rob Cox, head of SCUA. Cox, whose brother was a union carpenter on the West Coast, expressed enthusiasm. Together they arranged for Garand to transfer the paper files—correspondence, memos, and meeting minutes from the 1970s to 2019—of almost a dozen UBC locals.
By March of 2020, the pandemic shut down the campus and the Libraries, making UBC’s records inaccessible. Then, in May 2020, Rob Cox passed away. When Aaron Rubinstein took over the leadership of SCUA, he encouraged Garand to apply for the first-ever John William Bennett Fellowship. Garand’s connection to the UBC’s archives made him the perfect fit.
The original plan for the fellowship was to integrate the older records with the new lot, about 115 boxes of documents in all, but with the Du Bois Library still closed, Garand and Rubinstein came up with an alternative project. Ever adaptable and personable, Garand recorded interviews with eleven people, including Mark Erlich, author of With Our Hands: The Story of the Carpenters in Massachusetts (1986) and Labor at the Ballot Box (1990); Carol Burdo, the first woman to be an UBC administrator for the affiliated Holyoke Health Fund; and Mike Gozeski, a Greenfield-based journeyman. Both Burdo and Gozeski have passed since Garand interviewed them, which shows how important it was to capture these stories when Garand did. Their interviews are now among several dozen more oral histories that will become part of the UBC collection. “That’s why this partnership with SCUA is so important,” Garand says. “The people in the UMass Libraries have the skill sets to bring these materials together and connect them with others who are interested in our stories.”
Top photo: Jason Garand digitizing documents.