Birch bark texture.

Ahtna Kanas Summer 2022

“Nothing is Impossible If You Put Your Mind to It” Albert ‘Palmer’ Fleury Reflects on 20 Years of Union Service

Albert Fleury, or Palmer as his friends and family call him, developed a strong work ethic at a young age. That work ethic stuck with him throughout his career thanks in part to his first job as a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Fire Crew Chief. He was only 16, but showed promise of being a young leader and was assigned his own crew of 25 firefighters. “The best part of my first job was my BLM boss, Fred Rungee. He taught me what good work ethic was, and to not only work hard, but always be dependable,” says Palmer. His crew, which included many shareholders, went all over the state to fight fires. It was hot and hard work being out in the field for a month or more at a time.

Palmer honed his mechanic skills as a teenager by working on his own car, and those of his friends and family. Those skills transferred when he joined the International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 302 (IUOE Local 302). He retired from the IUOE Local 302 in 1997 after twenty years of service, but remains a member. He says his favorite part of working in a union was getting that dispatch call. He began as a journeyman, which gave him the chance to work all along the Trans Alaska Pipeline for four years, from Prudhoe Bay all the way down to Valdez. He also worked various construction jobs and helped to build the road for Red Dog Mine and several drill pads on the Slope. Palmer worked year-round, which meant enduring some pretty extreme winter conditions. “The coldest environment I ever worked in was at Prudhoe Bay in -120 degrees below zero wind chill! The hydraulics would freeze up and we could only be outside for 10 minutes at a time,” Palmer recalls.

“Being away from home and living in camps presents its challenges, but you shouldn’t let it deter you from leaving the village to get experience or training,” says Palmer. “It isn’t an easy job, but having a trade can be very rewarding if you stick with it.” Palmer made that part of his mission, to encourage others to stay with the trade and help them to be successful. If he saw someone struggling, he would share problems he had faced and explain how he overcame them. He let them know that nothing is impossible if you put your mind to it.

Palmer says he has had shareholders express interest to him in an apprenticeship program, but they hesitate to pursue one because they were worried about mistakes they made when they were younger. He tells them that shouldn’t stop them from applying and it’s important to get experience any way you can. The union requires a certain amount of experience and employer recommendations before they will accept you. Also, there are extra expenses involved in becoming a mechanic or oiler, as you need to provide your own tools and clothing. Palmer said the minimum for mechanic tools can run from $5-6 thousand, and you should take pride in taking care of your tools because that is your livelihood.

“I hope young people interested in working and getting a trade apprenticeship see it, and try it. Regardless of where they want to work, I hope they get training, do their own research, and stay with it. That’s the main thing, don’t give up. The union provides good paying jobs, regardless of what area you choose. It’s up to you as the individual in the end to stick with it. You just need to prove yourself and then won’t have any problem going to work,” says Palmer.

Palmer is a member of the Taltsiine (Water) clan, which is named for the many rivers where his ancestors lived and hunted. Palmer and his wife Linda have four children: Donna, Melissa, Jerry, and Dominic. His mother was the late Leona Joe, and her father was the late Tazlina Joe. His grandfather used to have a village at Tazlina Lake in the early 20s and 30s and that is where his aunts and uncles were born.