A few weeks ago, Samantha Ervin-Upsher kept getting calls from a Washington, D.C., phone number she didn’t recognize.

The first-year carpenters apprentice with Southwestern Pennsylvania’s Carpenters Local 432 decided not to answer because she figured they were just more of the seemingly endless line of spammers asking about her car’s extended warranty. 

But a short time later, she got a call from someone in her union hall who told her she’d better pick up the phone next time that D.C. number dialed her.

“I got a call from our [union] hall like, ‘Yeah, you should really answer your phone. It’s actually the White House calling,’” Ervin-Upsher told the Pittsburgh Union Progress on Friday at the Steelworkers Building in Downtown. “And I said, ‘No way!’”

The calls came from the office of first lady Jill Biden, who invited Ervin-Upsher to be her guest at President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address. Ervin-Upsher accepted the invitation and attended the event last week, sitting with the Biden grandchildren, among others.  

Ervin-Upsher said she had met the first lady in July when Biden visited the construction site of the new Pittsburgh International Airport terminal, where Ervin-Upsher was working. She said she told Biden about her experience, that she plans to keep her carpentry job long-term and “that I’m looking forward to us growing as a union and looking forward to more women in the field.”

At the State of the Union, Ervin-Upsher got to network with union members and other working-class guests whom the first lady had invited from around the country. She was also able to speak with the president and first lady’s grandchildren, who, she described as “very down to earth and welcoming.”

The president’s speech got widely positive reviews nationwide, but one segment in particular made Ervin-Upsher pop out of her seat. 

“When he started to talk about union work and touch on how he’s invested in buying American and building American, I instantly jumped to my feet and started clapping because I’m like, ‘He’s talking about us,’” she said. “I’m here to represent the folks he’s talking about.”

Ervin-Upsher said she never imagined that she would have the chance to attend an event like the State of the Union address, let alone as a guest of the first lady.

She said she wants to use her experience to motivate others so that they may have similar opportunities in the future.

“I’m always pushing that if I can do it, you can do it, [and] anybody can do it,” Ervin-Upsher said. “This was definitely the fuel that sparked that fire.”

Overall, she said, the experience was “surreal.” 

“I’m still trying to process it because it’s not every day the White House calls you and says the first lady wants you to come out and be her guest,” she said. “I felt very honored to be there and represent my union brothers and sisters internationally and locally.”

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Andrew writes about education and more for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at agoldstein@unionprogress.com.

Andrew Goldstein

Andrew writes about education and more for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at agoldstein@unionprogress.com.