Conduit Staff Reports
Late last month United Association (UA) Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 342 held a ribbon-cutting and opening ceremony for its new 28,000-square-foot training facility in Concord.
The new center will help educate nearly 500 apprentices per year from Alameda and Contra Costa counties in plumbing; steam fitting; heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC); and piping. Many of these apprentices will work in Oakland, building the city’s next residential and commercial properties.
“This is really about the membership and their willingness to sacrifice to invest in growth so we could prosper,” said Derrick Kualapai, business manager and financial secretary for UA 342, as he kicked off the June 30 ceremony.
A few years ago, Local 342 members agreed to have $1.80 be taken out from their regular paychecks to help fully fund the construction of the new training facility, which is wholly owned by the union and has no mortgage. The union was able to do this as its membership has been rapidly increasing over the last few years. Just a year and half ago, the union trained roughly 250 apprentices, but it plans to double that in the next year. Local 342’s total membership has hovered around 3,300 participants, but will soon be expanding to around 3,800.
The revitalization of union labor and its importance to the surrounding area were central themes for the speakers at the ribbon-cutting. Congressman Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord; State Superintendent for Public Instruction Tom Torlakson; Concord Mayor Edi Birsan; Assemblymembers Tony Thurmond, D-Richmond and Tim Grayson, D-Concord; and Andreas Cluver, vice president and secretary treasurer of the Alameda Construction & Building Trades Council were present. Other speakers included UA District 5 Vice President Stan Smith and UA International Representative Bob Lamb.
“To the membership: The foresight and the commitment to training speaks volumes for your belief in your leadership and understanding that it’s training that makes the difference for the UA and our skilled crafts to go forward,” said Smith.
Local 342 was considering building its new facility in Walnut Creek over issues with zoning in Concord, but local politicians stepped in to keep it in the city.
“There was no way that Concord was going to lose such great partners and a wonderful apprenticeship program right here. So, we did what we had to do. We did the right thing to make sure you stayed right here where you are able to use all of these facilities together and do state apprenticeship programs that really work for the community. Whether it’s reentry, or Helmets to Hardhats… it’s [about] getting folks back into where they can work again,” Grayson said.
Thurmond, who represents parts of Alameda and Contra Costa counties spanning from Oakland to Hercules, talked about the jobs the facility will bring to the surrounding area.
“There are tremendous opportunities for those who want to work and there are [worker] shortages. And this training center will make sure that we have a great workforce that is prepared and has been through the apprenticeship programs,” Thurmond said.
Thurmond added that the California legislature, under a bill he sponsored, will be moving $300 million toward advancing vocational training in schools this upcoming budget year, as lawmakers are increasingly recognizing the importance of such training to students throughout the state.
Torlakson spoke about how training facilities like local 342’s will help encourage more students to join the construction trades.
“I oversee six million students. Too few of them are choosing the trades as their future. So we’re trying to turn that around and say that apprenticeship programs like this, they work. They provide a great income, great benefits, great retirement, a great way to support a family and a community,” Torlakson said.
DeSaulnier, who represents Concord, spoke about what union training facilities mean for the labor movement across the country.
“When this country was great, and it still is, by the way, a third of the workers were in a labor union. The economy grew at six percent. The middle class grew and people could move up. You could buy a house and retire in peace and help your kids follow their dreams. And now labor is down and capital is up. And inequality is up. There is only one way to fix this: We have to give [a] voice to working people. And you are the model,” DeSaulnier said.
UA Local 342 has been training apprentices since 1952. Before that time, there were no formal apprenticeship programs, as most training was done on the job. The union opened its first training facility in Concord in 1972, but outgrew it and expanded to another facility in 1993, which remains open today.
“This [new] training center is a symbol. It’s not just a symbol of the future, and a symbol of this craft and where it’s going to go; it’s also a symbol, I think right now, for the labor movement, too. We’re under attack from this administration, with this Supreme Court, and I think we’re sending a message that we’re strong, that we’re going to withstand this, we’re going to grow, that we’re going to be there,” said Cluver.
UA Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 342 is a major funder of the Oakland Conduit.