The United Association of Plumbers and Fitters (UA) and its signatory contractors are stepping up to help train military veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars for careers in the pipe trades.
The Veterans In Piping (VIP) program was launched by the international union several years ago. Today, 250 veterans nationwide are training to be steamfitters.
Eight of them are at the training center in Tualatin operated by UA Local 290. They were dispatched to Oregon after completing an accelerated 18-week program in Lacey, Washington, where UA Local 26 works on recruitment with the Washington National Guard and Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs. Over that 18-week period veterans receive counseling to transition back to civilian life, they complete a welding certification that allows them direct entry into an apprenticeship program, and they receive one-and-a-half year’s credit toward the union’s five-year training program.
U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Sergey Yeremeyev is a star apprentice in the program. He joined Local 290 on Jan. 19 after landing a job with Charter Mechanical, a strong supporter of the VIP program, along with the Oregon chapter of the Plumbing and Mechanical Contractors Association.
Yeremeyev is one of six VIP apprentices nationwide who have been invited by UA General President Bill Hite to attend the union’s national convention Aug. 8-13 in Las Vegas.
Yeremeyev, 27, was considering a military career before learning about the VIP program. He had enjoyed his five years with the Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 140 “Patriots,” where he worked as an ejection seat mechanic assigned to the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Besides that, the military provided good fringe benefits, which were important because Yeremeyev had married while in the Navy, and had two children.
So it intrigued him when the UA explained that he could learn a new trade as a steamfitter while working for pay and benefits to support his family. He discussed it with his father, a welder for 25 years, and decided to give it a go.
Yeremeyev was interviewed and tested. He scored high in math, which opened the door to Local 290.
“It (welding) is not as easy as it looks,” he told the Labor Press. “And Oregon is one of the hardest programs to get into. I was fortunate.”
Local 290 Business Manager John Endicott said the timing was perfect. “The international called saying they had some VIP guys to place. We looked at our out-of-work list; Charter was in need of some apprentices. It was the perfect window of opportunity.”
Oregon was a good fit, too, because it was close to Yeremeyev’s extended family. Sergey was 16 and the oldest of six siblings when his family emigrated from the Ukraine in 1999, settling in Edmonds, Washington. After graduating from high school, he worked several jobs before joining the Navy.
“In the Ukraine, every boy goes into the military when they turn 18,” he said. “I thought it was the right thing to do.”
And UA General President Hite says it’s the “right thing to do” to help soldiers returning home trying to find work in a struggling economy.
“These men and women have given so much to their country, and we want to reward them with a life after their service to their country,” said Hite, who earlier this year received a Distinguished Service Award from the Military Officers Association of America for his role in spearheading the Veterans in Piping program.
UA Local 290 Training Director Mike Pollock says he hears nothing but good reports from the military and employers.“Veterans show up on time, they’re eager to learn, and they work hard,” he said.
In addition to helping returning vets, the training of military personnel also will help fill a void left by retiring fitters. According to the UA, over the next 10 years, 24 percent of its membership nationwide will be eligible for retirement. Because it takes five years to train a new journeyman, the UA wants to see 50,000 apprentices in its training programs by the end of this year. It currently has 39,000.
[The average age of a Local 290 member is 43.5 years. Local 290’s training program currently trains 110 plumbers and 212 pipefitters.]