By DON McINTOSH
Laborers union members and many others in the local union movement are mourning the unexpected loss of Aida Aranda, who died suddenly at home Feb. 27 of natural causes. Aranda was training director at Oregon and Southern Idaho Laborers Employers Training Trust, and in December, was elected secretary-treasurer of the Oregon AFL-CIO.
Born Oct. 16, 1962 in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Aida Aranda moved as a child with her family to the United States. Her parents were migrant farm workers, picking tomatoes and oranges in California, and later strawberries, cucumbers, and beans near Cornelius, Oregon. She was the fourth of five children, and she and her two brothers and two sisters would come along as their parents worked in the fields. Aida worked the fields too as a child, and not just for pocket money; her family depended on the income.
After graduating from Forest Grove High School, she became a single mom and worked as a teller at a bank in Cornelius to support herself and her son while living at her mother’s house.
It was tough to make ends meet as a teller. Her oldest brother Alfonso was a union carpenter at Western Partitions and urged her to try construction work.
At first, thinking that was men’s work, she didn’t consider it. But after she was held up at gunpoint at the bank, she decided construction would be less dangerous.
Alfonso was working construction at Intel and tipped her off that general contractor Baugh Construction was hiring laborers. In September 1997 she got a job at Baugh (later bought by Skanska) and went to work at the Intel site.
As a construction laborer, she became a member of Laborers Local 296 at age 35. (The local later merged to become today’s Local 737.) There was no apprenticeship program at the time. Members were just hired by a contractor and sent to the union hall to pay initiation dues.
On the job, coworkers called her “Sunshine,” because she was always smiling. She had come from a customer service background. But she learned to toughen up.
Later in her career, they called her “Animal” because she was fierce, and strong. She felt she had to prove herself, to defy expectations that, as a woman, she couldn’t do the work.
On the job, she faced disrespect, discrimination, and harassment as a woman. Male coworkers and supervisors would tell her she was taking a job from a man. Or they would hit her up, ask her why she wasn’t married, ask her out on a date. She wasn’t interested. Her focus was on taking care of her son. She also sometimes faced ill treatment as a Latina and was told, “Go back to Mexico.”
She didn’t let any of that stop her.
At first she did general labor, then was assigned to be safety cop, enforcing job safety rules. She continued as a general laborer at Western Partitions, where she worked her way up to foreman. For a decade, she set up for carpenters, framers, brick, and drywall workers, moving heavy materials. Later she did fireproofing. It was physical work. She loved it. She saw it as an interesting, fast-paced environment, building things that last. She helped build the Oregon Convention Center, Fox Tower, and OHSU’s Kohler Pavilion, among other local landmarks.
Learning a skill gave her confidence. And the wage meant she could be financially independent.
Her younger brother Dago also worked in construction as a laborer.
In 2008, Aranda was approached by Local 296 business manager Ken Morgan to work for the union as a dispatcher. They were looking for a bilingual Spanish speaker, but she also had a reputation as a hard worker. Working dispatch for about a year, she learned a lot about the breadth and scope of what laborers do. But she didn’t like working in an office.
There was an opening for apprenticeship coordinator, and the training director asked if she’d be interested. She had enjoyed volunteering for outreach events. For the next seven years, she did outreach full time, going out to school career fairs and shop classes to recruit apprentices, and also visiting construction job sites and making sure contractors were giving apprentices the training they needed.
Working closely with organizers, she became enthralled with organizing. She spent two years as an organizer, signing up workers and contractors.
Finally, in 2017 she became training director, working for a board of trustees made up of union and employer appointees.
Late last year, she was approached by Oregon AFL-CIO president Graham Trainor to fill a vacancy in the state federation’s number two office, secretary-treasurer. It was a volunteer post, but with the approval of her board she accepted the invitation, and won the position in a unanimous vote at the Dec. 8 meeting of the Oregon AFL-CIO Executive Board.
Aranda was the first-ever person of color to be a top Oregon AFL-CIO officer. She was also the first unionist in decades from the building trades to hold one of the top two offices. She saw it as a tremendous opportunity to advocate for union apprenticeship programs.
Aranda was proud to be a laborer, grateful for the opportunities she’d been given, and motivated to grow the union and give those opportunities to others. Her work lives on in the landmarks she built, in the example she set, and in the many lives she influenced by encouraging them to join the union.
Editor’s note: The information in this story is from an in-depth interview with Aranda in January that was intended for a profile about her new leadership role.
Celebration of Life for Aida Aranda
- WHEN 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, March 25, 2023
- WHERE Oregon and Southern Idaho Laborers Training Center, 17242 NE Sacramento St., Portland, Oregon
- RSVP by Wednesday, March 22 at https://forms.gle/AuypH4DgzKCQCbxk7
- FLOWERS can be sent to Oregon and Southern Idaho Laborers Training, 17242 NE Sacramento St., Portland, OR 97230
- DONATIONS in her honor can be mailed payable to the “Aida Aranda Benevolence Fund” to: Oregon and Southern Idaho District Council of Laborers, 17230 NE Sacramento St., Suite 201, Portland, OR 97230