Fred Braker’s sheet metal worker career started out as a temporary gig. “And it turned out to be 37 years. Twenty-one of them as an officer,” he says. Working for the Local 194, a sign making and production division, Braker help shepherd in Atlantic City’s casino boom of sheet metal work.
“I was working for a place called Cutler industries. At the time, there was a lot of casinos coming about in Atlantic City,” Braker remembers. “There was a big buzz for everybody in the Atlantic City area. They used to have bus trips down to Atlantic City for the seniors. At that particular point when it first started, the growth of it, everybody was happy, very happy. Everybody was working.”
A major portion of that work came from real estate magnate, current president, Donald J. Trump.
“Cutler industries had already been working with Trump. We did a lot of work for all the other casinos as well,” says Braker. “We actually did work for the Trump Plaza. We did work for the Trump Shuttle. So yea, our shop was getting into a lot of Trump work.”
He adds, “He loved seeing his name. That tells you right there what a vain son of a gun he was. And is.”
In a recent video released by SMART (Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers), Braker shared how his shop was never paid for sheet metal work at the Trump Taj Mahal. The venture went bankrupt and contractors were never paid, resulting in a string of bankruptcies for everyone involved.
“I can remember in my shop we were still basically still finishing off some stuff for the Taj Mahal when my contractor went bankrupt for lack of payment,” says Braker. “And it wasn’t just mine, it was like five or six sign companies, obviously local companies that also didn’t get their money. Sheet metal companies, electrical companies and cement companies, you name it. Anyone who worked for the guy, any of his projects, everybody got beat. It didn’t matter if you laid the rugs, did the drapes, it was hundreds of contractors.”
The bankruptcy pushed Cutler’s around 60 sheet metal workers out into unemployment, says Braker. There were three unions in the shop, including electricians, sheet metal workers and painters.
“So each local lost their pension funds and health and welfare funds,” says Braker. “That was the most I had ever been out of work in 37 years.”
In 2006, the union merged with Sheet Local 19, and Braker remained an organizer handling the sign division and the production. “People don’t understand the ripple affect of one bad apple and how he can destroy the lives of so many people,” says Braker. “I am the business agent, and I have several hundred people just in my division alone. So there are several hundred people that sit on my shoulders, and then I add on their wives, and then I add on their children, and the responsibility that I am in a position now.”
Braker — with SMART — has endorsed Joe Biden as his candidate of choice in the 2020 presidential election. However, whatever the results may be, Braker would more than anything like to see a sense of pride return to the building trades.
“There’s no pride in what’s being built,” he says. “It’s all about the bottom line.”