UNIONS AND JOB TRAINING
By Chet Yarbrough
VERSION OF THIS ARTICLE POSTED “LAS VEGAS REVIEW JOURNAL”
Union strikes are big news. They stop traffic, interrupt business, and disrupt lives. But “big news” hides the real story, the things that union’s do that few know about.
Crystal Slaughter is a Teamster member, President of WACA (Western Apprenticeship Coordinators Association), and Director of Convention and Construction Training for Teamsters Local 631. Slaughter set up a meeting to discuss union apprenticeship programs. Slaughter invited Tommy Blitsch who is the Union Chairman of Teamsters 631 Convention Training Program, and Secretary Treasurer of Teamsters Local 631.
Every convention that comes to town is dependent on performance of Teamsters to deliver, set up, and breakdown convention exhibits. Las Vegas could not be the convention superstar it is without union help. That help begins with a training program organized by Teamsters Local 631 that specializes in convention construction and customer service.
Slaughter said, “We just opened applications for our (Convention Training) program and had nearly 1,000 people apply.” Slaughter noted that Teamsters Local 631 offers applicants America’s “…premier tradeshow and convention industry training program”. Local 631 created the first Department of Labor’-accredited and registered convention apprenticeship program in the United States. As part of training in transport, set-up, and breakdown, Teamsters Local 631 offers OSHA safety classes, certification and re-certification of Journeyman equipment operators, and earned credits toward a college degree. Slaughter said, “Since 2001, we have trained over 1,000 apprentices who are now Journeyman and Convention Industry professionals. (For more information call 702-651-0344 or email Cslaughter@631train.com.)
Careers are made by Union Apprenticeship programs.
Meeting Bobbie Whitmore, a member of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, offers a behind-the-curtain look at a union member. Whitmore said, “I have been a union member for 34 years.” Having started in the hospitality industry, Whitmore felt there was another career to better suit her ambition.
Whitmore said, “I was introduced to the Carpenters’ Union through CETA (the Comprehensive Employment Training Act passed during the Nixon Administration) and began volunteering to support and recruit women to join the union.” With that union introduction, Whitmore joined the United Brotherhood of Carpenters to apprentice with a Journeyman Carpenter. Whitmore explained, “It changed my life”. Whitmore’s take-home pay as an apprentice doubled after joining the union. She raised 6 children on her family’s income.
Whitmore is now the “Female Programs & Outreach Coordinator” for the “Southwest Carpenters Training Fund”, located at 4131 E. Bonanza Road in Las Vegas. Whitmore participates as a fund representative at colleges, high schools and community organizations to share the opportunities available for men and women through apprenticeship training. Whitmore said, “Construction is still considered a man’s job by many, which creates its own challenges, but the key to achievement in any field is education.” She goes on to say, “We need more women applying for apprenticeships in all trades because recruitment is not keeping pace with member retirement.”
The “Southwest Carpenters Training Fund” is a non-profit union affiliate that promotes and trains men and women for a career in the carpentry fields. The “…Training Fund” is designed to teach construction specialties ranging from foundation form work to drywall finishing to general carpentry and weatherization. It is a myth to suggest construction was better before the advent of construction specialization. Without training offered by unions like the United Brotherhood of Carpenters, quality construction would suffer, production would diminish, and worker safety would decrease.
In looking at the website for the “Southwest Carpenters Training Fund” (www.swctf.org), one can see that there are career opportunities in the carpentry fields. The website is a good information source on how to start a career in construction.
Whitmore introduced Lily McCann and Jeffrey Kelley, two apprentices in the program. McCann explained, “I was working two jobs when my mother told me about a Union apprenticeship opportunity.” McCann said, “It helped to know someone to get into the program but once enrolled, it offered a career opportunity for a working mom.”
Jeffrey Kelley just graduated from “Job Corps” in Colorado. He said, “Job Corps” gave me work experience that improved my eligibility for a Union apprenticeship job through the ‘Southwest Carpenters Training Fund’”. Whitmore explained, “Getting into an Apprenticeship program is a great opportunity because you get paid while you are learning.” Whitmore noted, “It is important for young people to get a high school diploma or GED because basic education is essential for success in the workplace.”
Ron Warde, a Site Facilitator for SWCTF, said, “Every Carpenter apprentice and Journeyman receive a training card with a posted QR code that provides every employer a detailed resume of carpentry experience and job safety training for the person pictured on the card”.An employer knows exactly what training and certifications a union employee has when he/she comes to the job. Warde explained, “When an employer calls for a particular number of foundation framers, finish carpenters, drywall hangers, or drywall finishers, the union is able to respond with exactly what the employer needs.” Union training reduces an employer’s concern about job safety training and work qualification when union employees come to the job.
A part of job satisfaction comes from camaraderie inherent in being a part of something larger than one self. The “Southwest Carpenters Training Fund” sponsors a labor fest once a year (except for last year because of the economy) to celebrate the experience that apprentice and journeymen union members receive through training and work. Food, competition, and education fill the hall in a celebration of American labor.
Marvin Gebers, the Director of Training for the Operative, Plasterers & Cement Masons, is always looking for new apprentices. Three of the most physically demanding jobs in construction are concrete placement and finish, masonry, and plastering. Gebers said, “When the market was blowing and going, we had 2,000 skilled laborers in this Local–now, we have less than 1,100.” Gerbers indicated that reduction in members is related to the market but a big concern is retiring journeymen and lack of young people coming into the trades.
Gerbers explained, “We are competing with higher education, office work, and less rigorous physical requirements of other jobs.” Anyone wishing to join the OPCM, must have a high school diploma and be willing to work hard. Before being considered for training, an aspiring apprentice needs to pass a written test which includes basic math and geometry learned in high school.
A chosen apprentice has the opportunity to be paid while learning how to work. There is no guarantee of on-job training because it depends on market demand but at least there is an opportunity to earn while you learn. A qualified applicant will spend 4 years with 640 hours of class and 5,000 hours of on-job-training to become a journeyman. Gebers explained, “We are presently teaching two classes with the first having 10 cement masons and 12 plasterers, and a second class with 6 cement masons and no plasterers.” The apprentices range in age from 22 to 50. Gerbers said, “The College of Southern Nevada offers 29 college credits for successful completion of the OPCM classes.”
This is hard work. It is not for everyone but apprenticeship wages, when jobs are available, are 50% to 70% of journeyman wages, or between $17 and $20 per hour take home pay. As the apprentice becomes more skilled, health benefits become part of their pay package.
An applicant needs to be physically fit as well as educationally prepared. Plasterers and masons, like many trade disciplines, are primarily taught through Union apprenticeship programs like that offered by Local 797 of the Operative, Plasterers & Cement Masons union. Marvin Gebers can be contacted at (702) 452-8809 or emailed at email@example.com.
Another fascinating trade is represented by Jon Yunker, the President/Coordinator of the International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators. The union apprenticeship telephone number is (702) 649-7897. Yunker’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org . (Yunker is also a General Foreman for Southwest Specialty Contractors.)
Yunker and Aaron Quiroz, V.P. Local #135 (who is also an instructor for the class room), offered a guided tour during one of the evening classes. Yunker explained, “All fabrication in these class rooms was done by students or journeymen that contributed their time to demonstrate skills of the trade.”
Yunker said, “We are considered one of the best heat and frost insulator apprenticeships in the country”. Nearly every casino in Las Vegas has been worked on by apprentices taught at this school. Everything from heat gain and loss analysis to insulation fabrication for heating and cooling systems is taught at this school. Yunker noted, “Thousands of dollars in monthly office and casino building operating costs have been saved through conservation measures made by heat and frost insulators trained at this school.”
The heat and frost insulator school is totally supported by unions that are part of WACA. No other educational facility offers more hands on practical experience. A Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee (JATC) will select apprentices for the training. When applications are open (advertised 2X/year in the Las Vegas Review Journal), six criteria must be met by aspiring apprentices.
- Birth Certificate 18 years of age. Original will be photocopied and returned.
- High School Diploma or G.E.D. Original will be photocopied and returned.
- High School Transcripts. Original will be photocopied and returned.
- Must be physically able to perform the work of the trade.
- Those who meet the minimum qualifications will be scheduled for an oral interview.
- Those applicants selected are subject to a substance abuse test, prior to being selected for the apprenticeship program. The date and time to be determined.
Once an apprentice signs up, he/she will attend a minimum of five years of night school with 720 hours of classroom training and 8,000 hours of On-the-Job-Training. A Commercial Apprentice will earn 50% of Commercial Journeyman wages when on the job (Journeymen presently earn $41/hour). Union schools, unlike academic institutions, pay students to learn through on-the-job experience.
Moshe Bialac is a Socratic gadfly for Southwest unions. By title, he is the Statewide Job Coordinator at Nevada State AFL-CIO but one of his specific tasks, sponsored by a State of Nevada grant, is to assist employees that have received warning notices of imminent layoffs. When large employers face economic conditions that require mass layoffs, Bialac assists management in transitioning the soon-to-be-unemployed through a “Rapid Response Lay-Off Aversion” program.
Bialac travels the State, from Gabbs to Ely—from Jackpot to Las Vegas, to help employees work through loss of their jobs. Bialac explains how to write resumes, change careers, and capitalize on learned skills. In his travels, he speaks at special events, K-12 schools, and Indian Reservations to emphasize the importance of getting a basic education.
Bialac said, “People often do not realize how much they know and how many of their skills translate to other kinds of jobs.” He adds, “There are many training opportunities offered by Nevada Unions that are not known by job seekers.” Losing a job is hard. Jobs give American’s identity. Bialac knows what it is like to change direction in life. Working in the film industry, Bialac lost the use of his legs in a camera accident. Bialac’s experience reinforces the talks he gives at Rapid Response meetings.
In his bag of brochures, Bialac carries a Nevada State AFL-CIO pamphlet titled “A Directory of Nevada Unions and Training Programs”. There are 65 pages of contact numbers for apprenticeship programs sponsored by various Union Locals throughout the State of Nevada.
Bialac noted, “Rural youths are difficult to recruit into trades because they do not know or understand their alternatives.” College is often out of reach because of its expense. The military is an avenue out of town, but now the military is becoming less available. Bialac said, “A part of my mission in life is to explain to young and old that there are many alternatives for a good and prosperous life in Nevada.”
Learning a trade carries as much weight as a college degree. Unions help make a good life possible for many who cannot afford college or cannot wait to begin their adult life. Union apprenticeships are a win-win for American society.