May 2012

Apprentice and Journeyman Ironworkers: We Need Each Other

You have heard our Iron Worker apprenticeship programs described as the backbone or life-blood of our union because of their tremendous impact on our future and the future of every journey person and retiree. Apprentices are the heartbeat of our union, and when our apprenticeship programs are strong, we are strong in securing work, better contracts, and a retirement with dignity. We recognize their importance and the importance of continuing to upgrade the skills of journeymen by your commitment of nearly $50 million a year (local union, International and IMPACT) to the development and delivery of apprenticeship and journeyman training. We commit to the future when we mandate a 25 percent ratio of apprentices for every local union, and establish journeyman to apprentice ratios through our collective bargaining agreements.

The past three years of the construction depression has eroded our apprenticeship programs by 40 percent or nearly 7,000 apprentices from our peak of over 17,680 in January 2009. As work improves, it is critical our apprenticeship numbers ramp up as well. We must demonstrate to the industry the capability of our union to train and meet its demands. The predicted skill shortages are already evident, especially for certified welders. Those that have the trained and skilled workers will have the work, and it must be our union. Through the owner dialog established by IMPACT, we continually emphasize that a clear commitment to use union labor will allow us to fill the schools that will provide the skilled ironworkers necessary for their projects.

Not only must the owners and contractors recognize the value of apprenticeship, it is essential we view apprenticeship as an integral part of our union and our future. It is, after all, how we have passed our knowledge, experience and values to the next generation for over 116 years.

When you see that young apprentice on the job, every journeyman has a responsibility to ensure their safety and help them to become the best ironworker they can be. Every journeyman has a vested interest in their success. Each new generation of ironworkers needs to be the best if we are to be productive and competitive, and to grow our market share, and to grow our ability to deliver contracts with better wages, health coverage for our families, and a secure retirement. Understand that when you do not see an apprentice on the job, your own future is in jeopardy, and the healthy retirement you look forward to may be more distant and not as carefree.

Apprentices must understand their responsibility in the equation that governs the future of our union. A lot is riding on your skills and your character. You have been given the opportunity to become a union ironworker. To join the ranks of the men and women who are recognized as the best in the industry; who will place their lives in your hands day after day; and have provided for your training from their own pocket. The large investment we have made in you dictates the high standard that is expected in your conduct at school and on the job. We, as a union, cannot afford second-rate graduates, cannot afford valuable class space taken up by those lacking, and cannot afford precious job opportunities jeopardized by bad behavior.

Tomorrow I hope that each journeyman looks at each apprentice and affords him or her, a nod of recognition for his or her commitment, and a helping hand to become that next best generation of union ironworkers. And each apprentice should look at that grizzled old ironworker in appreciation of the opportunity they created for you and the knowledge that respect is earned.

Thank you brothers and sisters for helping to build our great union.