By DON McINTOSH
One of Oregon’s oldest unions is under new leadership.
Matt Eleazer, longtime president of Portland-based Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Local 1, left office March 6 to work for the international union — assisting locals across the West.
Shawn Lenczowski, who was serving as secretary-treasurer and apprenticeship coordinator, has been appointed to replace him as president. And Local 1 vice chair Matteo Russo Jr. will serve as secretary-treasurer. Lenczowski and Russo will serve in those posts at least until June 2024, when officer elections are next scheduled to take place.
Local 1, first chartered in 1893, today represents 979 bricklayers, stone and marble masons, tilesetters, terrazzo workers, and pointer-caulker-cleaners in Oregon, Southwest and Eastern Washington, Idaho, and Montana. Its president serves as the union’s full-time business manager, responsible for negotiating and enforcing collective bargaining agreements, growing the union and its market share, and maintaining strong benefit funds.
Eleazer stepped into that role in 2005 after working for the local as an organizer and field representative.
Eleazer, 44, grew up in Vancouver and went to Hudson’s Bay High School. He initially wanted to be a game warden and took classes at Mt. Hood Community College. Then he found out how little money game wardens made and dropped out. His dad, a union floor coverer with Local 1236, told him to pick a trade — or get out of the house. He picked the bricklayers on the recommendation a neighbor who worked as a manager for union-signatory Bratton Masonry, and joined Local 1 in 1996.
The job combined two of his loves: building things with his hands, and being outdoors. As an apprentice, Eleazer excelled, winning a local apprentice competition and finishing the program early. He worked brick and block, and a little bit of stone, on everything from residential housing to high rise commercial buildings.
“I always enjoyed the camaraderie, and at the end of the day being able to see something you built with your own two hands that will stand centuries from now.”
Encouraged by some journeymen, Eleazer attended union meetings even as an apprentice and got active. Then-president John Mohlis invited him to become sergeant-at-arms. Later he was hired as an organizer. When president Keith Wright retired in 2005, Eleazer — then 26 — stepped in as president. He got to work and was reelected without opposition ever since. In 2019, the international rechartered the local, adding members in Washington, Idaho, and Montana.
Local 1 president contains a lot of responsibilities, but over the years Eleazer added to it a personal mission to help members battle and beat addiction. Now, as Western Region Representative, Eleazer will help business managers at locals around the West, including Local 1.
During Eleazer’s 17 years leading Local 1, its assets grew from $900,000 to $7.5 million. To his successor, he hands off responsibility for a successful union with substantial reserves.
Lenczowski comes to the job after almost 14 years leading the union’s apprenticeship program.
Lenczowski’s journey to the union began as an apprentice at Bromley Masonry in 1998. He grew up in Stevenson, Washington, and had been taking classes at Clark College and working as a lot attendant and car salesman when he saw an ad in a newspaper for bricklayer apprenticeship. He applied, and six months later got a call from the union saying they had a job for him. Lenczowski had no construction background, but learned on the job thanks to the union apprenticeship program. His first construction job was building a cold storage area at the Tillamook Cheese factory.
He attended union meetings and was active, so when the apprenticeship coordinator position came open, he applied and got the job. The job was hands-on, both instructing and coordinating instruction for the next generation in each craft specialty. The training program has had as many as 170 apprentices; currently there are 90.
For now, the work outlook looks bright. Members are at or near full employment, and there are projects on the books through at least the end of 2023. But Lenczowski will have to defend the union’s market share from lower-wage non-union contractors, particularly in tile and brick work.