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.”