PEOPLE Matthias Maurer
Chairman of the Central Works Council of HOCHTIEF Infrastructure GmbH (in Hamburg and Essen)
The course of Matthias Maurer’s life may seem puzzling: What motivates a theologian to become a carpenter? And how does a master carpenter become the chairman of the central works council? He ascribes it to coincidence, at least in part. Many things simply happened. But it’s also true that his environment shaped him and pointed him in a certain direction. Maurer, who is now 59, grew up in a family of construction workers in the Palatinate region. His grandfather and great-grandfather were skilled craftsmen—bricklayers and plasterers, to be exact. He started doing odd jobs on construction sites when he was 14. He was also active in Catholic youth groups, and he enjoyed this work so much that he decided to become a priest. But as a student he gave up this plan, even though he found his theology and philosophy courses very interesting. “All the same, much of what I was learning as a student stayed with me, because back then I was grappling intensely with social issues,” he says. He still draws on these studies today.
He went back to construction work because he had to earn a living after college. He was familiar with the work, was good at it, and liked it: being outdoors, collaborating with others, and creating and shaping things with his own hands. He started temping in Frankfurt, moved to Hamburg soon after that, and decided to do an apprenticeship as a carpenter in order to have a solid basis. “It wasn’t easy,” he recalls. “Everyone thought I was crazy.” But he didn’t give up, got an entry-level job at HOCHTIEF, and one thing led to another. Maurer rose in the ranks and became a foreman. He loved his job, was active in a labor union in parallel to his work, and continued to be concerned with social issues. In 1994 his colleagues elected him to the works council because he was “good with words” and promoted their interests. He served on the works council for 20 years parallel to his job. Since 2014 he has devoted himself exclusively to this work. He misses the construction site, but he now has the opportunity at another level to help organize and advocate for the issues that are important to him: ensuring greater justice in the workplace. Whether it’s due to coincidence or not, he’s in exactly the right place.