July 03, 2017
The long-term benefits of “a company that cares” can seem out of reach: something from a bygone era, or limited to the fabled perks enjoyed by Silicon Valley employees. Many millennials think they’ll never have the option of a pension or any guarantee of stability from their employers, and most American workers feel job security is on the decline. Worse still, the education system seems to be failing the future workforce — most college graduates are alarmingly unprepared for their jobs.
Despite this situation, UA Local 322, the Plumbers, Pipefitters and HVAC Service Technicians Union, ensures its workers never have to face these difficulties. Kurt Krueger Jr., a third-generation union worker and business manager of Local 322 observes: “In corporate America, it’s all about the bottom line … you work all your life to get up to a good salary, and they just fire you. We don’t do that in the union. … We have pension, health benefits, annuity, a vacation fund … it’s a career; most guys work 30, 40 years, and when they retire, they have a nice pension.” For its members, the union means more than just a steady job: it’s a career opportunity that lasts a lifetime.
At the beginning of March each year, Local 322 puts out an open call for its apprentice program – with only 150 applications available! The application, a state-administered test and an interview whittle down that pool to a group of roughly 20 men and women who show the most promise. They are invited to join the union’s prestigious five-year apprentice program — the beginning of a lifelong career journey with plenty of options.
The first year of apprenticeship is devoted to safety and the use and care of tools. The second year of training allows apprentices to choose which line of work they prefer to focus on, such as industrial pipe fitting (large-scale work with cranes) or indoor plumbing with smaller pipes inside facilities. “There’s something for everyone,” says Krueger. “It’s our goal to keep everyone working.” The range of employment available through UA 322 covers a wide variety of work suited to workers’ strengths and tastes as well as the flexibility to change paths if they wish.
Those who go into a trade without the help of the union feel the impact. When it comes to nonunion work, Krueger says, “Most of these kids, they’re hired out of high school and don’t really know what they’re doing … they just send them out there and hope they kind of learn on the job.” It takes five years to complete an apprenticeship, and the advantages of that union training are clear. “We pride ourselves on our training,” says Krueger. “’Do it right the first time’ is one of our mottoes.”
Even after the apprenticeship, ongoing training and education are available to journeymen to keep building their skills. With foreman training, rigging and CAD classes, and more, the union is constantly training its members – resulting in safer workplaces and better workmanship for those who hire union workers. This focus and the supportive, family atmosphere of the union ensures that workers find a career they can thrive in. “We help our members,” says Krueger.
Local Union 322 is about more than just profiting its workers; it is committed to the community at large, serving the Salvation Army, United Way and the American Legion. The union is giving back to local veterans with help building a new home for the American Legion in Ocean City, New Jersey. With solid skills training, pension and benefits, and community support, being a member of the union is not only a good job, but a job to feel good about doing.