Neri Canahui-Ortiz was born in Guatemala City, Guatemala in 1976 during the country’s 36-year long civil war. From an early age, Neri worked to break himself out of the cycle of poverty while growing up in one of the most dangerous sectors of the city. In 1994, at the age of seventeen, Neri realized that to escape poverty, danger, and make an honest living he would have to leave his home.
Later that year, Neri arrived in the Commonwealth of Virginia. During his first few years in the United States, Neri learned English while working as a general laborer in the residential construction market. However, like many hundreds of thousands of workers to this day, Neri was a victim of misclassification and wage theft at the hands of his employer. Eventually, Neri found the Carpenters Union and began building a career as a union carpenter with good wages and benefits that helped him to start a family.
Realizing the important role that the union had played in lifting him out of poverty and exploitation, Neri became heavily involved with his Carpenters Union Local 1665. As recording secretary, Neri solidified his mastery of the English language and proved himself a valuable leader within the union.
In 2006, Neri was elected president of his local and began work to grow his local’s membership and organize workers into the union. Recognizing his talent, the parent council of his carpenters local brought Neri on as a council representative.
Since 2007 Neri has fought to protect construction workers in Virginia, Washington, D.C., and Maryland from the same exploitation he suffered early in his career. Until 2018, Neri served as President of his Carpenters Local and on the Executive Board of the Northern Virginia Labor Federation.