Bargaining in good faith

Earlier this year, members of the Greater Boston Plumbing Contractors Association and Plumbers Local 12 sat across from one another and ironed out the details of a four-year contract. The document they developed specifies the terms and conditions by which contractors employ the Local’s plumbers and includes issues such as wages, benefits, and safety practices. The process for the meetings, which included representatives of both management and labor that negotiated on behalf of their groups, is known as collective bargaining, and the result of the negotiations is a collective bargaining agreement.

The collective bargaining process is at the very heart of what unions are all about. It is one of the key attributes that distinguishes Local 12 members and the union’s affiliated contractors from their counterparts at non-union plumbing shops and the plumbers who work for them. The employee-employer relationship is fundamentally different.

According to both sides, the negotiations reflected the positive relationship that the PCA and Local 12 leadership have enjoyed for many years. Unlike the stereotype of labor and management being inherently suspicious of one another and, in some cases, at each other’s throats, the two organizations operate more out of a common belief that in partnership they can help each other succeed. It’s a collaborative rather than an adversarial relationship.

“The best deal is one that benefits both sides,” says John Marani, president of the PCA and lead negotiator for management at the collective bargaining meetings. “That’s the attitude we went in with, and that characterizes where we landed.”

Tim Fandel, Local 12’s business manager and the chief negotiator for labor, expresses a similar view. “Our shared goals are woven together,” he says. “There is an underlying incentive for us to reach an equitable agreement.”

That doesn’t mean it is always sunshine and rainbows. The two leaders acknowledge that the sides have their differences and separate objectives as well. While they might not agree on everything, however, they say that they are always respectful of one another. And when they reach an impasse, they resort to a time-honored negotiation strategy: compromise.

As an example, Local 12 came to the table asking that Martin Luther King Jr. Day be recognized as a formal holiday. After some discussion, MLK Day was added to the holiday calendar in the collective bargaining agreement. Including the paid holiday imposed a financial impact on the contractors, a point that Fandel acknowledges.

Jeremy Ryan, the contractor association’s executive director, noted that he believes the plumbers are the first trade in Boston to make MLK Day a full holiday. “I think that speaks to the leadership of the PCA and Local 12. It’s a great thing for our industry.”

The contractors proposed increasing the number of miles for which they must compensate plumbers commuting to job sites from 50 to 75. “It was a reasonable ask,” says Fandel, demonstrating another instance of compromise at the negotiations. Among other items included in the agreement were some language changes. For example, to reflect changing attitudes and encourage diversity, “journeyman” will be updated to the gender-neutral term, “journeyperson.”

Both labor and management take the “collective” in collective bargaining to heart. Marani says that it was vitally important to him that the negotiators representing management spoke with one voice for the contractors. To that end, he and Ryan sought and welcomed input from all signatory shops, received a lot of good feedback, and was able to advocate on behalf of contractors of all sizes for a variety of issues.

To make the necessary concessions and move the process forward, both Marani and Fandel say that they tried to consider each other’s perspectives. They also tried to consider the state of the construction industry and project where it might be heading, which is never an exact science. The Boston area has been on a remarkable, long-term tear since 2009. But the industry historically endures both boom and bust cycles. The future may be vague, but the agreement that they hammered out provides continuity and certainty for both sides as they face whatever lies ahead.

During the negotiations, the two groups looked even farther into the future and discussed issues that may not be of concern for another 20 or 30 years. Fandel says that even though it’s difficult to know what the state of the industry will be then, it’s important to start thinking and talking about upcoming concerns for the collective bargaining agreement now.

In the end, both sides considered the bargaining process and the agreement to be successful. “You want the person you’re negotiating with to be of good word,” says Marani. “Tim proved that he was an honest and forthright guy. We tried to be the same way.”

Likewise, Fandel believes that the successful negotiations came down to mutual trust. “That’s why it works so well,” he says. “It’s a covenant between us.”

Helping vets get the services they need

After serving their country as members of the military, many veterans return home and seek careers in the building trades, including plumbing. Quite a few Local 12 members are veterans.

Sometimes, it can be difficult for them to make the transition to civilian life. Vets may not be aware of services that are available to them or know how to access them. That’s where Mike Degeis comes in.

An employment and outreach specialist with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Degeis has been busy connecting with Local 12 members and other construction workers. Based in Bedford at the Edith Nourse Rogers Memorial Veterans Hospital, he began making the connections about two years ago as part of the VA’s Supported Employment Engage and Keep (SEEK) program. In that time, he has helped about 150 veterans, approximately half of which are in the building trades–including around 35 Local 12 members. One of them is Shawn Ingraham.

“As a veteran you can feel isolated when you come home,” says Ingraham, a fourth-generation Local 12 member. “You realize it’s not what you thought it would be.” A Marine Corps vet like Degeis, he says that the VA rep has been instrumental in providing support and acting as a liaison with the agency.

“Mike put together a group for Local 12 veterans,” Ingraham explains. “It’s been very therapeutic for a lot of us.” Less than one-half of 1 percent of the U.S. population are active-duty military personnel, and a small percentage of those see combat. Ingraham was deployed to Afghanistan from 2011 to 2012. “We’re part of that fraternity. We need the community, and Mike’s been great at creating it for us,” he adds.

Mike Degeis, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Massachusetts
Mike Degeis, an employment and outreach specialist with the U.S. Department of Veterans AffairsU.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and his son, Qunicy.

When the COVID pandemic hit, the group temporarily stopped its regular meetings. But Ingraham says that Degeis continued to keep in contact with him. “It’s kind of like a buddy check. It goes a long way.”

Degeis says that the VA has long had an education program that helps pave the way for veterans to attend college. But veterans who went directly to work sometimes fell through the agency’s cracks. The relatively new SEEK program is a way to help ensure that vets get the care and resources they need to help them remain healthy and employed. Beyond the support group, Degeis works individually with vets to assist them as necessary.

As Degeis explains, it’s important that they continue to have a mission. If vets encounter some challenges in their lives, it may affect their ability to hold onto a job. That could lead to a spiraling cascade in which they not only lose their job but can no longer afford housing.

“They held themselves in high regard at one point of their lives when they were protecting the USA,” says Degeis. “Now they’re a homeless vet without a job.” Before it gets to that point, he is there to support both the vet and the employer. The agency will do whatever it takes to meet the veteran’s needs and to keep him or her on the job. That might mean mental health services through the VA, or it might mean making arrangements with other medical providers or agencies.

Sometimes, more than jobs and housing are at stake. The SEEK program also helps address the high suicide rates among veterans. “We can’t wait for veterans to be in crisis mode,” Degeis says. “We want to be proactive.”

The agency will also help veterans with less urgent and more practical matters. It might be educational benefits or a VA-backed home loan, for example. Ingraham says that when he went from the Marine Corps into the Reserves, some of his paperwork got mixed up. He discovered the problem when he tried to set up vocational rehab services. Rather than attempting to wade through the bureaucracy, he turned to Degeis who was able to intervene and sort everything out.

“We have a lot of members who are appreciative of the help Mike provides,” says Barry Keady, Local 12 business agent. He has been working with Degeis to help spread the word about the SEEK program. The pair have visited several job sites to make introductions, and Keady has set the VA rep up with general contractors so he could meet with more veterans in the field.

Keady notes that veterans are highly valued in the trades. “They’re generally more mature. They know where they are going in life.” Because of their military experience, vets work well as part of a team–a desirable trait for the kinds of large-scale projects on which Local 12 members often work. “They are natural leaders,” Keady adds. The business agent praises Degeis and the SEEK program, saying that it has been very effective.

Degeis hopes to replicate the success he has had with Local 12 and other building trades and expand the program to other employers. He’d also like to use the example he has set in the Boston area and take the SEEK program national. “We’d like to show other VAs how to do the same thing with their union partners.”

Diamond Mechanical, signatory contractor with Plumbers Local 12 Boston

Diamond shines bright with plumbing division

Like his father and his grandfather before him, Brian Gerrior, Jr. would have been happy working in the field as a union pipefitter for his entire career. But fate intervened, and he ended up opening his own HVAC and refrigeration shop, Diamond Mechanical, four years ago. Last year, he expanded his growing company and added a plumbing division.

Gerrior’s grandfather emigrated from Nova Scotia and worked on the fish piers in Boston cleaning and preparing the catch. When the fish company needed somebody to work on its refrigeration units, his grandfather stepped in and was able to learn the trade on the job. 

“It was a big transition for him,” Gerrior says. “He came out of Canada with nothing.”

His grandfather later joined the union. Gerrior’s father and uncle followed in their dad’s footsteps. Brian Gerrior, Sr. put in 39 years in the field and also taught at Pipefitters Local Union 537’s training center.

Gerrior, Jr. started working in the trade at age 19. For 11 years, the third-generation pipefitter mostly helped manage the mechanical systems on site at Boston Medical Center for Emcor Services. Work-related injuries sidelined him, however, and he transitioned to outside sales for a union company. That gave Gerrior a new perspective on the industry as well as the skills to consider opening his own shop.

He took the leap, and at age 32, started Diamond as a one-person operation. Gerrior worked in the field most of the day and did all of the estimating, billing, and other administrative and sales work at night in his office–a spare bedroom in his house. Finding success, he brought on a pipefitter about six months into the business. Gerrior next hired an employee to work in the office and built a space above his garage to accommodate the expanded team. Work continued to roll in. Diamond is now 19-persons strong and operates out of office space in Weymouth. 

The plumbing division wasn’t so much by design as by circumstance. “It was customer need,” Gerrior says. “We rarely do bid and spec work for plumbing.” 

Instead, Diamond’s existing HVAC clients would ask him if he could handle plumbing projects. At first, Gerrior partnered with another union plumbing contractor. But when the demand for plumbing work grew to the point that it could be sustainable, he added the plumbing division. Diamond now employs five Local 12 plumbers.

As an example of a client driving demand for plumbing services, Gerrior points to the Newton Marriott. When the hotel reached full capacity, it wasn’t able to generate enough domestic hot water or pressure for guests on its upper floors. One of Diamond’s biggest HVAC customers, the Marriott came to Gerrior seeking help with the water problem. After diagnosing the issue, the shop did some re-piping and added redundancy. “That was years ago,” Gerrior says. “The hotel hasn’t had any guests complaining about the lack of hot water since.”

There was never any question in his mind that Diamond would be a union shop. “I joked that it if my business wasn’t union, I’d never be able to sit with my family for Thanksgiving dinner,” says Gerrior. Coming through the union, he says he knows how important the benefits are to the guys in the field. Now as a contractor, Gerrior appreciates having the labor pool available to staff up as necessary.

Diamond’s growth and success over a relatively short amount of time has been all the more impressive given that it has been operating amid the pandemic for nearly half of its existence. “When COVID hit, my business strategy and timing couldn’t have been any worse,” Gerrior says. He focused on colleges, hotels, and hospitals, all of which were among the hardest hit by the pandemic.

In response, Gerrior branched out and targeted nursing homes, public school systems, and other markets. He has also started working with cannabis grow facilities and adds that the emerging industry looks promising as a source for work.

Despite the disruption caused by COVID, between positive word-of-mouth and Gerrior’s marketing efforts, Diamond has continued to grow. In fact, he added the plumbing division as well as a building automation division in September 2020, right in the middle of the pandemic.

While service has been Diamond’s specialty, Gerrior has been adding construction projects recently, such as handling the domestic hot water for the Liberty Hotel in Boston. He hopes to generate more construction work and continue to expand the business. To that end, he is looking for additional space and wants to purchase a building to serve as the company’s new headquarters–its fourth in four years. Planning for the future, Gerrior says that the office would include a prefabrication shop. “I’m hoping the next move will be good for at least ten years.”

Tom O’Brien, Jeremy Ryan, John Marani at Greater Boston Plumbing Contractors Association Industry Appreciation Night 2021

GBPCA event celebrates industry

Typically, the Greater Boston Plumbing Contractors Association presents its Industry Appreciation Night every two years. The biennial event was supposed to take place last year, but as with so many things, the pandemic disrupted the schedule. If there was any apprehension that people might be hesitant to attend the large-scale celebration because of COVID, those concerns were roundly laid to rest when Industry Appreciation Night came roaring back this year. The PCA welcomed a huge crowd of more than 450 people to the Encore Boston Harbor in Everett on October 1.

“Everyone who was there raved about how wonderful the event was and what a good time they had,” says John Marani, president of the PCA and owner of A.H. Burns Company. He lauded Jeremy Ryan, the organization’s executive director, Andrew DeAngelo, its director of public affairs, and the member contractors who serve on the PCA’s committees for their hard work organizing Industry Appreciation Night. “It was really a home run,” he added.

The event is an opportunity for the PCA’s contractors, the Local 12 members with whom they work, and their partners in the community to celebrate the plumbing industry and the region’s dynamic construction and development sectors. It features guest speakers as well as the presentation of lifetime achievement awards, which this year honored Joe Valante, Sr., the founder of Valante Mechanical, and Vin Petroni, president and CEO of E.M. Duggan. Joe Valante, Jr., the president of Valante Mechanical, and Kevin Walsh, executive vice president of E.M. Duggan, gave warm and moving introductions of the honorees.

Joe Valante Jr., Joe Valante Sr. and Dick Valante of Valante Mechanical at Greater Boston Plumbing Contractors Association Industry Appreciation Night 2021
Joe Valante Jr., honoree Joe Valante Sr. and Dick Valante of Valante Mechanical at Industry Appreciation Night 2021.

The keynote speaker, Tom O’Brien, founding partner and managing director of HYM Investment Group, set the tone for the evening by highlighting some of the key reasons he believes Boston is such a successful market for commercial development and construction. These include the city’s terrific institutions, such as its colleges, hospitals, and non-profit organizations, and Boston’s strong residential character. “We need to continue to add housing,” O’Brien said. “We should do it on a union-built basis with Local 12.”

The developer also cited the city’s predictable process as a factor that contributes to its supportive environment. “Capital wants to be involved and successful here,” he said. “Projects are built on a schedule we all understand.” O’Brien then identified some of the signature projects that HYM is building in partnership with the PCA’s contractors, including the redevelopment of Suffolk Downs in Revere and East Boston, Bulfinch Crossing in downtown Boston, and a facility in Brookline that will be the first of many senior housing developments. “Working together, we’re going to continue to make this city work well and create opportunities for one another along with the people who work for us,” he added.

Len Mondfredo, Kevin Walsh Mayor of Everett, Carlo DeMaria Vin Petroni of EM Duggan at Greater Boston Plumbing Contractors Association Industry Appreciation Night 2021
Len Mondfredo and Kevin Walsh of EM Duggan, Everett Mayor Carlo DeMaria, and honoree Vin Petroni of EM Duggan at Industry Appreciation Night 2021.

Other speakers included Marani, Ryan, Local 12 Business Manager Tim Fandel, and Everett Mayor Carlo DeMaria. Holding the event at the Encore gave guests the opportunity to see and experience the magnificent hotel and casino, which opened in 2019, just months before the pandemic forced its temporary closure. The resort, which was entirely union-built, was one of the largest construction projects ever in the region.

Jenna LeClerc, Local 12 plumbing apprentice Boston

Jenna starts her career with Local 12

Their journey to Local 12

Periodically in The Pipeline we profile Local 12 apprentices to discover the path that led them into the trade and the union. Who and/or what inspired them? Why did they decide to choose plumbing as a career? Why did they want to join Local 12? This issue we showcase two members at either end of their apprentice experience: Jenna LeClerc recently graduated high school and is a first-year apprentice, while Brendan Willett is in his fifth year and will be working towards his journeyman license.

“It’s not so unusual for women to go into the trade now,” says Jenna LeClerc, a first-year apprentice who joined Local 12 in September. Thanks to many pioneers who came before her and changing attitudes in the industry and society, young women such as LeClerc feel empowered to pursue plumbing.

Her dad is a carpenter, and LeClerc says that she was always interested in his projects around the house. She assisted him sometimes and remembers realizing at a young age that she wanted to do work like her father. A good student, LeClerc found that she was more of a tactile learner. “I understood more and caught on faster when I worked with my hands,” she says. “I really like accomplishing something and having something tangible to show for my efforts at the end.”

For high school, she followed her older sister and attended Essex North Shore Agricultural and Technical School. While there, LeClerc studied many topics, including culinary arts and dental assisting. “I wasn’t necessarily looking at plumbing,” she notes. “But I really enjoyed the class and found the trade intriguing. It turned out to be my favorite. I wanted to learn more.”

Having found her niche, LeClerc ran with it. Taking advantage of Essex Tech’s work-study program, she spent the last two years of high school working in the field with a plumbing company based out of Gloucester. The young student quickly found herself putting in water heaters, fixing leaks, installing sinks, and doing other residential service work. She also got to work on complete house remodels as well as some commercial construction jobs, which gave her a taste of larger projects.

It may be more common for women to enter the trade now, but some people are still surprised by the notion–especially when they see a young female show up at their house to help install a vanity. “Some thought I must have been the daughter of the boss,” LeClerc says, recalling the reactions she got when she was 16 years old and started working with the plumbing company. “They were shocked that I was a student and so young.”  

LeClerc says that she didn’t know much about unions in general, but one of her Essex Tech teachers told her about Local 12 and encouraged her to apply. She was accepted and, after graduating high school in June, the 18-year-old became a member of the union.

Since joining, LeClerc has been working for American Plumbing and Heating. Among the projects she has worked on are the 41-story One Post Office Square office tower in Boston, the multi-use, seven-story building at 100 Hood Park Drive in Charlestown, and the renovation of hospital patient rooms at CHA Somerville Campus. LeClerc says she is enjoying the work, especially the pace at which she and the other plumbers have been working.

As for Local 12’s training center, she says it is obvious that the instructors really like what they are doing and that they are there to help the apprentices. “They want us to succeed,” LeClerc adds.

When she made the decision to become a union plumber, her family and friends were all excited, supportive, and happy for her. “Even though my dad is a carpenter, he is thrilled that I am pursuing plumbing. He told me it was something he wanted to do.” LeClerc says. “Now, we are a well-rounded family with him doing carpentry and me doing plumbing.”

Brendan Willett Local 12 Boston plumbing apprentice

Brendan heeded his grandfather and his uncle

Their journey to Local 12

Periodically in The Pipeline we profile Local 12 apprentices to discover the path that led them into the trade and the union. Who and/or what inspired them? Why did they decide to choose plumbing as a career? Why did they want to join Local 12? This issue we showcase two members at either end of their apprentice experience: Jenna LeClerc recently graduated high school and is a first-year apprentice, while Brendan Willett is in his fifth year and will be working towards his journeyman license.

Growing up in Hanover, Brendan Willett says that he began helping out at his dad’s two businesses, an ice cream shop in Kingston and a garden center in Quincy, when he was a young child. He performed all kinds of duties, but especially enjoyed when he got to work with his hands on projects.

“We were always building some contraption,” Willett explains, and recalls working on an irrigation system to water the flowers at the nursery as an example. 

When his family had a plumbing problem at their house, however, they turned to Brendan’s grandfather, Jake Orlando, to come to the rescue. A licensed plumber and a Local 12 member, Orlando did more than repair the family’s leaky pipes and get their hot water running. He also encouraged Willett to consider becoming a plumber and steered him to the union. In fact, plumbing and Local 12 is something of a family tradition; Willett’s uncle and his uncle’s two sons (Willett’s cousins) are all Local 12 members as well. They were influential in guiding him to the trade.

After his junior year in high school, Willett took a break from serving ice cream and selling shrubs for his father and got a summer job working with a plumber in Carver. He immediately loved it, he says. The work included new construction of single-family homes, largely on Cape Cod. Since it was a one-person shop, Willett got to learn a lot in a short amount of time assisting the plumber.

The two of them handled all of the plumbing for the houses from the basement up. Watching everything come together from start to finish gave him a good sense of how entire plumbing systems work.

“When I went back to school I missed the work,” Willett says.

He next went to work for a shop in Braintree after graduating from high school–literally. “I got my diploma on a Friday, and started work on Monday,” says Willett with a laugh. He also got his apprentice license and signed up for classes. He worked for another couple of shops, but felt like he wasn’t learning much at either the school or at the shops. Then Willett became a Local 12 member.

“The difference between Local 12’s training center and non-union classes is incredible,” he notes, adding that it is much more well-rounded and offers considerably more hands-on opportunities. “The local’s instructors are always available. They’ll do anything for you.” Paying the training center perhaps the highest compliment, Willett says that he hopes to teach there someday.

Since joining Local 12, he has mostly worked for Jeffrey Peabody Plumbing and Heating on new construction of mid-rise apartment complexes. Willett says he hopes to have the opportunity to work on larger jobs such as high-rise office buildings in Boston.

He praises the benefits he receives as a member of the union, and says that even though he is only 24, he appreciates that Local 12 is helping him prepare for retirement. “Anybody with common sense should be thinking about retirement, even at a young age,” Willett says. He notes that he can see the difference that good retirement benefits have made for his grandfather. Both his grandfather and his uncle, Tommy Orlando, were very involved with the union. Tommy served as the president of Local 12. 

Starting when Willett was two, his grandfather and uncle would take him to Local 12’s Christmas party. “Even as a little kid, I was struck by the brotherhood and the camaraderie,” he says. Now that he is a member, Willett has made many friends within the union and gets to experience the camaraderie firsthand. “We have each other’s backs.” 

As he looks to the future, Willett thinks that he may be able to apply the leadership skills he developed while working at his father’s businesses. “I think I’d be a good foreman someday,” he says. “No matter what I do, as a Local 12 member, I know I’ll have a great career.”

Turning off the PFAS tap forever

Plumbers help keep people and communities safe by providing access to clean drinking water. But what happens when a community’s water supply is compromised? That’s the predicament in which several Massachusetts cities and towns find themselves.

About a year ago, the state issued directives requiring public water systems to test for dangerous polyfluroalkyl chemicals, known as PFAS for short. 20 percent discovered levels that exceeded regulations. Some, such as Wayland, began distributing bottled water to households. Other affected communities include Natick, Randolph, and Wellesley.

The group of chemicals share a carbon-fluorine bond that is among the strongest known to humans. That makes them especially effective for items designed to be non-stick or water- and stain-resistant. These include non-stick cookware, rain jackets, dental floss, and ski wax. The strong chemical bond also makes PFAS extremely persistent in the environment, hence their nickname: “forever chemicals.” They are often found in drinking water and groundwater.

“They are very difficult to get rid of once they are created,” says Kyla Bennett, Ph.D., science policy director for Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and a former scientist at the Environmental Protection Agency in Boston. PFAS have been linked with health issues ranging from cancer, developmental delays for children, and immune problems. They have been shown to affect wildlife as well as humans. “We have to turn off the PFAS tap, literally and figuratively, to stop them from affecting us,” adds Bennett.

U.S. manufacturers have voluntarily agreed to stop making the two most common PFAS chemicals. They are among the six that Massachusetts is targeting. The problem is that the country continues to import and use products that contain the chemicals. And there are more than 9,000 variations that fall under the PFAS umbrella. When states such as Massachusetts identify some that are problematic, manufacturers develop a slightly different formulation. “It’s a never-ending game of whack-a-mole,” Bennett says. “It’s an untenable situation. They are ubiquitous.” Instead, regulators are starting to think about targeting PFAS as a class and banning them altogether.

What can communities and individuals do? Bennett’s hometown of Easton first gave residents $75 rebates to purchase home filters that are certified to remove PFAS. Now, the DPW has installed a small system where residents can fill up jugs and containers with filtered water. The town is talking about building a high-tech filtration system for the entire water supply. Its $10 million price tag makes it a costly consideration for a small community, however.

As is the case in other communities, Easton is also blending the water it pumps from the town’s seven wells, three of which are contaminated. That dilutes the PFAS and brings it under 20 parts per trillion, the level the state has established as the cutoff. Bennett says many scientists think the limit is too high and should be closer to 0.1 parts per trillion.

In addition to regulating the amount of PFAS in drinking water, lawmakers are trying to target the source of the chemicals. There are bills in the state legislature that would ban PFAS in certain products. Other states, including Vermont, have imposed such bans. One of the items that contains the chemicals is pipe thread seal tape, a plumbing staple. Bennett says that plumbers should be looking for alternatives that don’t have PFAS.

Drinking water isn’t the only concern. In addition to ingesting the chemicals, people can also inhale them when they are aerosolized and absorb them through the skin (when showering, for example).

Massachusetts is one of the leaders tackling the PFAS issue in the country. But the chemicals are so pervasive, the federal government should ideally be involved. To date, the EPA has not imposed any regulations. That may be changing, however.

In July the U.S. House passed the PFAS Action Act, which would require the EPA to set a federal standard for the chemicals in drinking water. The legislation is making its way through Congress.

“The writing is on the wall. Eventually PFAS will be banned,” Bennett says. “We have to keep ourselves safe until we get there.”

Veterans’ benefits for apprentices

Many members of the military pursue careers in the building trades after they complete active duty, and Local 12 counts quite a few vets among its members. There are resources available to support veterans, such as the VA’s SEEK program (see article in this issue). They are also entitled to G.I. Bill payments while they are participating in apprenticeship programs.

People may be aware of G.I. Bill benefits that help returning members of the armed forces attend college. But the military’s educational program extends to trade apprentices as well. Veterans and members of the National Guard and Reserve as well as spouses and dependents of deceased or disabled veterans can apply for financial payments to help support them while they participate in approved apprenticeship programs. Local 12’s training center is a VA-approved education and training program.

The military and the government promote the G.I. Bill program as a way for employers and unions to recruit and retain employees and members. Veterans, meanwhile, can use the funds to help pay their living expenses while they work towards their journeyman licenses.

Helmets to Hardhats is another great resource. The non-profit organization connects returning military service members and veterans with training and career opportunities in the construction industry. Many veterans have found their way to Local 12 through Helmets to Hardhats.

Information, including access to application forms, about apprenticeship for veterans and G.I. Bill benefits is available at the Website.

Local 12 Plumbers Boston training center

Training center back to “normal”

As with nearly everything, the pandemic wreaked havoc with Local 12’s training center. But, after coping with major interruptions and modifications the past two academic years, apprentice classes and other programs at the center have returned, more or less, to regular operations.

The only major concession to the ongoing threat of COVID-19 is that students, instructors, and visitors must wear facemasks in the facility while they are in classrooms. Night classes for journeyman training, which had been temporarily cancelled, have resumed.

“We are trying to get back to normal,” says Rick Carter, the training center’s director. “But I think we are all still in COVID shock. Some people are having a hard time rebooting and returning to normalcy.”

When the pandemic forced schools to close in March 2020, the training center switched to remote learning. For classes that emphasize hands-on instruction and participation, the model proved to be difficult. Carter says it was not conducive to the kind of high-quality training for which the center is known.

In fall 2020, in-person classes returned. To maximize social distancing, however, the class sizes were reduced to about ten apprentices. That meant the center had to expand its schedule and present more classes to accommodate everyone. Many hand sanitizer stations were installed, the HVAC system was upgraded to improve ventilation, and other modifications were made. It was not ideal, but it was significantly better than conducting virtual classes.

This academic year, the center is back to pre-COVID-sized classes and a regular schedule. Carter says that it’s good to put most of the pandemic-era modifications in the rearview mirror. “Hopefully we never have to go back to that.”