Ironworkers USA FCU Member Makes History at Infrastructure Bill Signing Ceremony

Just before President Joe Biden signed the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill into law on Nov. 15, he was introduced by Seattle Ironworker Heather Kurtenbach — also a member of Ironworkers USA Federal Credit Union.

Kurtenbach was escorted to the White House South Lawn by both President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, as “Hail to the Chief” played. It was a defining moment in Mr. Biden’s 10-month presidency, after his hard fight to win bipartisan support for the legislation, and certainly for Kurtenbach, whose compelling story captured the attention of national media and 800 union workers, business leaders, mayors, and members of Congress attending the signing ceremony.

Kurtenbach told Anthem she was sent to prison in 2002 for making methamphetamine. She paid her debt to society and was determined to be better. She had to build her life back once being released from prison in 2005. No one, she said, was giving her much hope, much less a job. That was until a brother-in-law sent her to the Ironworkers Union.

“I was accepted into the apprenticeship and went right out to a rebar job. I loved working rods and I fit right into the trade,” Kurtenbach said in her introduction to Biden. “I’m proud to stand here today and represent the most diverse labor movement in history. Nearly half of my local apprentices are women or people of color. And this law empowers unions to keep building the middle class, leaving no one behind.”

The Will of an Ironworker

Not letting herself be left behind is an impressive part of Kurtenbach’s personal journey. She spent 13 years “on the line” as an Ironworker, then three years ago took the reins as Business Agent, Organizer, and Political Director of Ironworkers Local 86 in Seattle. She was the first woman to become an officer in Local 86 and is one of just two in the county to hold such a position.

And her credit union is an important partner. She counts on Ironworkers USA Federal Credit Union personally and professionally.

Heather Kurtenbach worked for 13 years in the field as an Ironworker, before accepting a leadership position with her union.

“I’ve used the credit union quite a bit over the years,” she said. “They have always been there and it’s the first place I go to now.” She gives special props to the credit union’s Loan Relationship Manager, Kim Martin. “She’s a money magic person who definitely makes things happen for us.”

No surprise, then, that the team at the credit union’s Seattle branch was glued to the TV earlier this month when their friend and loyal member was introducing the President of the United States.

“I never imagined in a million years that I’d be standing here today, but that’s what’s great about America,” Kurtenbach said as the crowd gave her a standing ovation. Watch her historic introduction in this C-Span clip.

Giving Back

Meeting the President, Kurtenbach said, was “cool. He’s very nice, very down to earth.”

It’s easy to feel that way about Kurtenbach as well. She is as comfortable talking about her past as she is proud of being a leader today in the union. She also works to help men and women coming out of incarceration to transition into successful careers in the trades.

“A lot of them, when they’re released, don’t have anything,” she noted. So, she helps them to acquire “boots, jeans, hard hats, raingear,” and more. Her goal is to help them obtain not only the provisions they need to work, but also to make them feel confident and comfortable in their new roles.

Does that sound just like credit unions’ “People Helping People” philosophy, or what?

Editor’s note: If the credit union community wants to help in the effort, donations may be dropped off at Ironworkers Local 86 in Seattle or through the Blue Collar Fund, an organization dedicated to helping members of disadvantaged populations start living-wage careers through apprenticeships in Washington State.

Posted in Around the NW.