Beginning last week, in Queens, hundreds of people camped out for a chance to become apprentices with the Local 46 Metallic Lathers and Reinforcing Ironworkers Union. As Gothamist notes, these apprenticeships are coveted because union jobs tend to be “well-paying and usually secure positions.” WCBS 2 had more on the matter:
Bracelets have been handed out to the first people in line, but “some applicants have already been eliminated from the process for missing the daily roll call, this has prompted others to line up and take their places… Applicants are given bathroom breaks, and some of them have gone home to shower. The week-long wait adds to an already tense interview process.”
One woman said to WCBS 2, “I have two degrees in business and I’m here. I graduated from Monroe College in 2010 and I havent been able to find a job in my field,” while one man told NBC New York that he came from Phoenix, Arizona, “Once I found out, I hopped on a plane and flew over.” A spokesman for the union said, “We believe in meeting the prospective clients and seeing if they really want to be a part of this organization. Naturally we had hoped they wouldn’t be lining up a week early just to get an application.”
The apprenticeship program at Local 46 starts at $18 an hour. Climbing the union ladder can be both professionally and financially rewarding and many of those making the biggest decisions on behalf of their brothers and sisters started off as apprentices. One such case is that of Mike Compton, Secretary-Treasurer of the St. Joseph Valley Building Trades and Business Manager for International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 153 in South Bend, Indiana. During the 35 years since his apprenticeship with the IBEW, Compton furthered his education, allowing him to acquire new skills while remaining a dedicated craftsmen. Compton earned an associate’s degree, a bachelor’s degree and an Executive MBA from three different universities, including Notre Dame. Because of this, Compton became a huge supporter of tougher academic standards for those looking to become apprentices with his local union. He promotes the idea of unions assisting members to further their education while remaining a tradesman.
Local 153 offers three apprenticeship programs — five years for commercial-industrial electricians, three years for residential electricians, and three years for specialists in voice, data and video, a skill more in demand these days.
“It focuses on the low voltage side of a building — computer systems, security systems, camera systems, card access systems, fire alarm systems, all things that are in a building today,” Compton said. “Some were there 30 years ago, but many of them are new to the new technology that’s out there, basically things that are computer driven.”
The 950-member union has some 100 apprentices, about half as many as in the years before the recession that hit construction especially hard. A labor-management committee, separate from the union, runs the program to serve the apprentices.
“They pay for their books, but they pay for nothing else,” said Compton, explaining that employers, the union’s customers, pay into a fund for the training. “It’s part of our total pay package from the people who hire our members. It pays for the building our members are in. It pays for instructors. It pays for two full-time people that run the program.”
Compton is quick to acknowledge the impact his IBEW apprenticeship had on his life:
“This all started from my apprenticeship program in 1977,” Compton said. “For me personally, I worked in the field for over 20 years before I set my tools down, so to speak, and became a full-time union representative.”