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Union Vs. Nonunion Training

As usual, Jim Olsztynski's editorial (“Trash Talk Over Apprenticeship,” February 2004) has brought up some thought-provoking points. I've been following the union vs. ABC discussion and thought I'd throw in my two cents worth.

Many years ago I participated in the ABC apprenticeship program for HVAC service and, yes, we had a considerable dropout rate. The reason given by my co-workers was a simple one, “It's too hard and I don't see why I need to know any of this.” It was a shame since all that “hard” information is used on a regular basis.

Many years down the road and I'm a service manager with a company that has union technicians and have found that our local doesn't train the apprentices with enough information at all.

The leadership in the union seems to believe that those apprentices wishing to follow into the technician field only need to know the residential basics and not much more.

Bad news for a commercial/industrial company with a union contract. The individuals knowing only the residential basics are thrown to the wolves, ill prepared for the challenges that come with the territory.

Meanwhile, the employers are left to complete the training, all the time paying a journeyman's wage. I'm left to hire skilled nonunion personnel and make them join the union to keep their job past the probation period.

Over the years my trade has taken me across the country and exposed me to a wide variety of companies and people, union and nonunion alike. What's wrong with our apprentice training programs? It depends on where you are in the country. Some areas of the country have great union training, others don't.

There is no one-size-fits-all fix to our training problems just as there is no-one-size-fits-all training program. We in the industry have to insist on quality training whether it's union or not. It's our industry as a whole that suffers.
Marshall D. Paulson
Heating & Plumbing Engineers Inc.
Denver, Colo.

Just when I was beginning to like PM.

Regarding Jim's editorial, he couldn't have been further from the truth. In fact, the only true thing I read in his article is that in construction, union membership represents only about 10 percent of the tradesmen. So, therefore, the underlying statement is that, according to your 10 percent union tradesmen number, 90 percent of the other work that is getting done is shoddy.

A union tradesman is less likely to utilize labor/cost saving tools and products like ProPress, PEX, T-Drill, Gripple and grooved pipe. Why? Because these tools and products will get them off of the job faster! Union thinking is that the fellow works for the union not the contractor. Just read the article on page 12 of the same issue, “CA Governor To Join Plastic Pipe Fight.”

I learned a long time ago that the only constant is change, but the union mentality is to do things the way they have always been done.

As far as the thought that nonunion contractors are under-trained, this is also an over-used union statement. I have been in the HVAC construction trades for more than 25 years. I also have been involved in adult education working nights and weekends for more than 20 years instructing. I know many of the instructors at the local Associated Builders & Contractors and let me just say this, they are craftsmen in the true sense of the word.

If the union training is as good as you state it is, how come it is more likely for a fatality to occur on a union project than a nonunion one? Also a union project is more likely to come in over-budget and behind schedule. We build to the same codes as the union contractors do, so there is no basis to the statement that our work has less quality to it than union contractors.
Harry Parker
Dualtemp
Allentown, Pa.

Refreshing. I am the current chairman of the Piping Industry Training Center in Northwest Ohio, and I am amazed at the amount of time, effort and money that is spent by our industry for training.

We recently spent $4 million on a training facility and even though times have been tough we continue to invest in the future of our chosen industry. If you are ever traveling through the city of Toledo, call and I will give you a tour.
Chris Bayes
Bayes Inc.
Perrysburg, Ohio

I'm a UA member of 24 years and, although I did not benefit from a union apprenticeship (much of my training came from the school of hard knocks), I couldn't agree with you more.

I am now an estimator at a large union company and can see plainly that our economic world would quickly discard this training and craftmanship if it were at all feasible. We are able to sell our product because our product still requires craftmanship to produce, and we offer the best.

It will be a sad day when we quit training our future generations.
Phil Chapline
Letsos Co.
Houston, Texas

I am amazed, even stunned, at the inaccuracies of the editorial.

We are members of ABC SoCal. Participating in the apprenticeship program requires a contribution of 75 cents for every man hour. This is more than the UA contribution.

Our system is like a “hiring hall system.” When an apprentice is out of work, they are required to sign the out of work list, which is then drawn upon by participating employers.

Our training program is rigorous and structured so that qualified journeyman are produced upon completion. I've never heard the “over-trained” sneer. In fact, we are continually evaluating areas that we can perhaps squeeze in more training.

We can't do it without adding another year of classroom time and more on the job hours. Our program already requires 7,200 field hours divided into all aspects of plumbing. Our goal is to have the No. 1 training program, with each graduate a potential foreman.

The UA program is a good program, without question. We have made ours even harder to qualify to get into because we want to be better. The hardest part to overcome has been stale attitudes of old philosophy and acceptance of the other side's propaganda by those such as yourself.

The editorial does mention a “few pockets of excellence here and there.” I'd like to read more about them.
Matt Fairchild
Fairchild Plumbing & Mechanical Inc.
Ontario, Calif.

I heartily agree with your editorial opinion. We are the management side of this industry in southern New Jersey that negotiates with UA Local 322 Plumbers and Pipefitters. Pride in workmanship is systemic with our local and echoed throughout the workforce.

The training coordinator, Walt Emerle, is unquenchable in his thirst for knowledge. He continually fills the training center with courses that train and challenge the apprentice and the journeyman. Drexell University provides construction classes in our training hall.

I have a daughter who graduated from an Ivy League university. I believe that if Walt were a professor in academia he would be tenured at Princeton. Fortunately for our industry, he is here in South Jersey.
John J. Connors
South Jersey Mechanical Contractors
Marlton, N.J.

I wanted to compliment Jim on his editorial. It was very well written and right on the mark.

I am active with both the Mechanical Contractor's Association of America and the Mechanical Contractor's Association of Chicago. The Chicago Pipefitters Union Local 597 has just begun construction on a training facility being built in Mokena, Ill. Without a doubt it will provide an even higher level of training to the industry.

As Jim points out quite well, it takes more than words to train the future of the industry. It takes commitment and hard work.
Mike Cullinane
Bert C. Young & Sons Corp.
Bellwood, Ill.