Maria Imamura

Shelby PalmerVeteran Gallery

Maria Imumara, SGT, Army Veteran

I am from Buffalo, NY. I joined the Army for love of country. A little background: My father is first generation American. My grandmother ran to the US from Europe after WW2 when she was freed by American Soldiers. My mother was born in Germany to German mother and American Soldier father. My father was in the Air Force when he met my mother. After 9/11 happened, I decided to postpone my plans for college and enlist. I served in OIF, OEF, and MFO. I joined as an Engineer 12C, I met my husband in my first unit and we married. Due to the limited areas I could be assigned as a 12C, I reclassed to 42A. Feb 1st 2019 marked 11years of marriage. We also have 4 and 8 year old. I chose to separate to spend more time with our kids, but also because I did not enjoy being a 42A. The Army helped me realize I enjoyed hard work and working with my hands. I decided not to complete my college degree in International Languages but to learn a trade because I knew it would be  a smoother transition, but also I know how happy I am working with my hands. While completing SFL TAP I learned of the VIP program. I have always been interested in welding and chose to go that route. I thoroughly enjoy everything I have learned through the program. I also enjoy being able to see a final product once my work is complete. Pipefitter welders must be able to critically think, have math skills, strength, endurance, yet they must be relaxed, focused and have finesse to insure a good weld. There are not many women in the trade, not because it’s hard for us to get in the trade, but because it takes a certain kind of person to do this work.

Maria Imamura, SGT, Army Veteran

Naomi Best

Shelby PalmerVeteran Gallery

Naomi Best, Seaman, Navy Veteran

Hello, my name is Naomi Best, and I am a proud fourth generation veteran.

Ever since I was a little girl I have always looked up to my father and listened to his adventures in the military. I have also spoken to my stepfather, grandfather, and great-grandfather with their stories. With the many generations of military in my family I chalked that up as a positive on how I was raised in North Dakota. Some may say that the way we were raised that we were sheltered, but in all actuality my parents were trying to teach us how to be positive, hopeful, optimistic, humble, caring and loving, and most of all help all Humanity.

In 1990 I left North Dakota and enlisted into the United States Navy. This experience was rather eye opening to what the real-world was about. It was almost like we were going overseas and learning about different cultures. Going forward I knew that I needed to be open and empathetic/ sympathetic to others life experiences & trials and tribulations. During my time in the military I had a better understanding of the teachings that my parents’ had taught me while growing up. This would also include what true solidarity meant with Brothers & Sisters that are by your side through thick and thin.

After the military my journey still continued in the civilian world. Being in the military it was much like being at home with my family. My family was rather large with me being the oldest out of 11 kids. When I was in the military I was a Mess Management Specialist, a cook in general, with other teachings towards Management, etc. I went looking for a job that entailed what my experiences were in the military. Finding out that in the civilian world, even though you explained it to them, they still didn’t understand. I would be put in a position that I was applying for that touched minimally to what my trained. Of course I still remained optimistic and put forth 110%, because that’s what we were taught to do. Yes, of course, I was not satisfied with where I was, but I still stayed positive and I was taught good things will come your way if you stayed positive. So I went through a couple restaurant jobs in the first 8 years from when I got out. Eventually I made it up to assistant management at Perkins Family Restaurant. I ended up moving back to North Dakota for a short period of time and while I was there I still worked at the Perkins Family Restaurant. I went to get a second job working as a cleaning lady at a hotel only because I was used to working long hours in the military and was still in that mode therefore why not? Within a year we moved back to the West Coast and I transferred over to the same restaurant chain. Still remaining positive knowing that I will eventually find what I was looking for from when I was in the military and the way I was raised at home. I eventually ended up going to work at a County Jail in their kitchen as an Industrial Food Service Management . Now I was thinking this is more like it with the duties I did in the Military. During my time in the kitchen I was in communication with the officers there and it seemed like they had the same familiarities of when I was in the military with my brothers and sisters. So I changed my career from Food Service to become a Corrections Officer in 1998.

During my time in this profession I experienced camaraderie, Safety and Security, Training, and most of all learning what a Union was through the Teamsters Union. I grew up in a right to work state and I had never knew or heard what a union was. This also was eye-opening experience when it came to solidarity,unfair labor practices, representation, and a whole multitude of benefits included. I still did not have a full understanding of what a union really was until I started talking to others, and also seeing what the representatives did for us when it came to bargaining. Being able to have someone there and have your back when things go wrong, is what I was accustomed to growing up and in the military. When I was a Corrections Officer I tried many different positions and the one that was most satisfying to me was working in Jail Industries (this was an inmate worker program in the facility). This gave me the opportunity to touch others lives and try to help them regain hope and strength to change and have a better life. I had a few that came up to me later on in my career and thank me for touching their life and help them to make that change. That is what made that job fulfilling for the most part. I knew at that time this was my calling to be able to help others to regain their Humanity & hope in life. I will say this I learned a lot working as a corrections officer, but I knew my journey was not over yet. I knew there was something else out there and I had to be patient because this was the journey to that destination.

During this career I met my husband. I was working on the east side of Washington State and he was working on the west side Washington state as a construction worker with the Laborers International Union of North America (LiUNA). I chose to leave this career and fall back onto the restaurant field because I was tired of just being a weekend wife for the first 5 years of our marriage. So I applied for a Management position at a Casino. I did get hired as a restaurant manager in a non-union working environment. With learning from the Union (during my corrections officer job), being in the military, and the way I was raised, I knew going into this position it was going to be another learning experience. In the military. and as a corrections officer, they taught us to think on our feet and be prepared for everything from a-z. When I took this position it was truly a whirlwind with staff. I had found out that the staff literally had an Unfair Labor practice that took place prior to me arriving. Also, finding out that I would lose a third of my staff, had three databases I needed to learn within about a week, policy & procedures and standard operating procedures to get written up, previous management didn’t archive paperwork for IRS since the facility was opened in 2008 so had to get that up to par, and no training log or training criteria for staff was created. Now at this point in my life and everything that I have done up to this point this did not scare me nor did I hesitate to take action. I looked at this more like a challenge that IS reachable, because there is no challenge out there that can’t be reached if you research for resources and remain open to learning something new everyday. During my two years there things got a lot better with the training and the camaraderie of my employees. I also did extra training for the supervisors as if they were to take over my position. I never felt that I would be replaced, but my focus was to be able to teach others everything and anything that I have learned to help them out and progress upward to higher positions hopefully. While working here in the non-union sector I did not have the representation nor the camaraderie that I did when I was Union. My pay was low as well as the others that I had to hire. I felt horrible seeing my employees coming to work so exhausted for having to work two full-time jobs just to put a roof over their head, to have some type of medical insurance, and only a 401k for retirement. I knew I could not change their hourly wages because it being a large facility, but what I could do is teach them what I knew so that maybe they can better their life by moving up in higher positions. With me being able to train my supervisors on the tasks that I did as a Manager I felt comfortable being able to leave the restaurant in very good and capable hands if I were to leave. My days that I worked were Tuesday through Saturday, but I always answered the phone on Sunday and Monday only because I would not let my team down. This is what solidarity is about is helping each other with anything and everything no matter what. My husband seeing me through all this had seen how tired I was getting and with little pay. He suggested that I try out the LiUNA Apprenticeship Program(since I loved being outdoors). Now at this time I was 42 years old and in an office environment. Like I have said before, there is no challenge out there that I would not face. I also feel that if you let your fears stop you, you will not move forward. So I took that challenge and went forth into the apprenticeship program. During our marriage I have met many people in the laborers union before joining and had noticed that they all had the same values and views that I have. So I knew this was the right choice to take not knowing how far it would take me, but it did not scare me.

In 2014 I entered the Laborer’s apprenticeship program. This program I entered was extremely educational, the solidarity was above and beyond what I have experienced after I left the military, and the Safety and Security of all Humanity was above and beyond. I knew at this point that this organization was going to be my home. It may have been a very long journey to find it, but the life experiences I have learned along the way were all well worth the time. I don’t regret anything that I have done to this point. Being able to go through a free apprenticeship program(career building school without coming out of it with debt); have full Medical, Dental and vision benefits; a traditional retirement(not a 401K); an actual wage I can live on without having to ask for government assistance; and most of all representation to back me when and if I am violated with an Unfair Labor Practice, all of these benefits have been a blessing. There are also many other programs that are available to me for assistance through the LiUNA. While going through the apprenticeship program I felt accepted on the job sites through our Union(Signatory) companies who were willing to train us and take the time to do so. It also goes beyond the job site towards our actual Union Hall and members. They truly do care unconditionally for all Humanity. I have since completed laborers apprenticeship program and now currently work for LiUNA as a District Council organizer. In this position I am able to go forth helping all workers(Union and Non-Union) and their families with a better way of life and to show them hope that there is another way.

So what I would like to share with you brothers and sisters coming out of the military is not to get discouraged with the job that you get. There are reasons for our journey and if you continue to go forth you will find that job or it will find you.

Here are a few pointers that I used for myself:

  • Never be hesitant.
  • Never second-guess yourself.
  • Never let your fears control you. Instead accept the fears and push forward. Those fears WILL diminish.
  • Always put 110% in everything you do.
  • Take that leap of faith towards jobs that come your way. You are good enough to do them.
  • Always be honest with yourself and others.
  • Remain humble.
  • Try to learn something new everyday throughout your journey.
  • If the camaraderie isn’t there, be THAT person that starts the camaraderie/teamwork and share that with others. They may never have experienced it so how would they know unless they were shown?
  • Teach others what you have learned. It’s much like paying it forward to Humanity.

To summarize my journey after the military is that I do not regret the travels/experiences I have done. My journey made me who I am today, and has helped me to get where I am. LiUNA is where my home is now and will forever be. I hope reading my story helps you understand that you should not be discouraged with your journey and keep moving forward because you will find your place. Maybe after reading my story you may consider joining LiUNA, because I feel wholeheartedly you would never regret it. Being able to go through the apprenticeship program and still be able to live comfortably with a whole lot of benefits has been a lifesaver.

In Solidarity,

Naomi Best

Military Portrait of Naomi

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