How to Join a Welding Union

Unions are an essential organization for the betterment of any profession. The worker’s rights, benefits, and compensation packages are given top priority in the modern age. To ensure the top brass doesn’t exploit the working class and the workers’ rights are not infringed, unions are essential.

Just like many other blue-collar professions, welding workers have their unions. The unions are based in rustbelt and working neighborhoods. Joining a union means entering a private club of a sort. Indeed, unions work vehemently to protect workers’ rights and ensure a level playing field for all.

But it certainly has drawbacks of its own. In this article, we are going to explain how to join a welding union. We will also walk you through different types of welding union, the full process, and the pros, cons of joining a union.

Union vs. Non-Union Welding

The choice between union jobs and non-union jobs will vary from one person to another. We will point out different insights and pick out all the facts to let you decide which one is better for you.

For union jobs, one attractive facility is health insurance. It’s not free, of course, but the premiums are reasonably low. It’s cost-effective and comprehensive coverage. It will cover any pre-existing conditions as well. However, it will not cover any dental expenses.

You also do not have any 401k, mutual, or retirement fund provided for you by the unions. You need to have at least worked 400-800 hours (depending on your locality in a single fiscal year to avail of this offer)

For non-union jobs, you have to set all these up by yourself. Also, in the union, you get overtime after 8 hours a day and 40 hours a week. You get time off on Sundays.

The payroll will start on Mondays. In non-union jobs, the payroll starts any day they want. There is no contract. Only general labor laws are applicable. In this kind of job, it depends on your employer. It’s his wish how he counts the overtime.

In non-union jobs, whether you will be paid transportation expenses depend solely on the contractor. Nothing is written on stone. They used to pay for this in the past, but they are less and less inclined to pay as time goes on.

In union jobs, you will be paid by the company for your transportation and shipping costs. They will get your travel pay. Union jobs are more professional. There is the usual bureaucratic mess, but a lot more organized.

After joining a union, you can get only jobs through the union. You are reigned in. You will be paid better. Your money will always be right. If there is any problem, it will be taken right away. It will be included in the paycheck.

Non-union jobs are freer reign. You will not feel trapped here, but they tend to be a bit less professional. It depends on who you are working for or with. There are contract non-union jobs that pay well. They sometimes pay with a split check.

But such jobs are rare to come by, and when you eventually find one, they are usually very late on payments but not being in the union means you are not boxed in. The sky is the limit. You can set when you want to work and how you want to cooperate with the contractor.

A union is not for everybody, but it works for several people. It will defiantly suit you if you like to travel. You have to pay the joining fee for unions, which is like 1200 bucks. It can be more or less, depending on your location, but it’s generally around this ballpark.

And there are monthly dues of about 30 dollars. But again, depending on your location, it can vary. When you are starting, you also have to pay three months’ dues in advance.

Union jobs will supply you with most of the tools. They will have things set up. That is not the case for non-union jobs. Tools need to be brought by yourself and maintained, set up by you as well.

Union jobs mean you have to do it all yourself, including adjusting the clamps. You also are your spacer, but in non-union positions, there will be separate labor for adjusting clamps and spacers.

Unions are always on the spot. They are usually targeted in the courts by protestors and environmental groups. Usually, when you are a new welder, try to do non-union jobs. So, you can garner as much as experience.

Do not trust all the things you hear about unions. Blaze your path. Be your own man. Try to experience it yourself. It has a lot of bureaucratic red tape, but it serves a lot of useful purposes.

Welding Education Needed to Join a Union

Non-union or union welder, you better go to a welding school. Welding courses are offered in many Polytechnique institutes or community colleges. It would be best if you had a fundamental grasp of the art of welding.

The courses generally span through 3-6 months. Such a school can never prepare you fully for the outside world, but it can give you the foundation needed. You have to work to learn. Most of the things you will learn in the job field.

The problems in real-life are diverse and multi-dimensional. So, choose a school with much more preference for practical welding sessional. It takes 2000 welding sessions to perfect the art. Always focus on more and more practice.

Many schools offer real-life experiences. Try to enroll in them. They will prepare you for snowing, rainy or extreme heat. Also, a variety of types of welding is there. Try to choose a particular field where you will be an expert.

Do not try to get into a welding school in your backyard. Be ready to travel. It would be best if you traveled when eventually you are a welder. If you are a pipeline welder, most of the time, you will be traveling.

Focus on the job placement ratio. Try to choose a school that will help you get your first job by building your CV. You need to be prepared for a crappy 1st job. It’s better than nothing. Just keep hustling, and you will eventually be going to get your big break.

To join a union, you need certification. The certification will be provided by the American welding society. You will have to sit for tests, but for non-union jobs, a welding society certificate is not required.

In the welding school, they will teach you to handle welding tools and join many stainless steel, metal, iron, and other compartments. Such lessons will build your fundamentals, but many welders say job training is the most effective way to learn quickly.

Whichever path you wish to undertake, make sure you ace the welding society certificate exam. There will be two parts to the test. One will be based on your practical works. Another will test your theoretical knowledge. You have to pass on both of the sections of the exam separately.

After getting your hands on the certificate, you can apply for union membership. Technically, you can get accepted, but it seems they don’t accept newbies straight away from experience.

For the first three or four years, they do non-union gigs. After garnering experience, they fill out an application for the desired unions. They prefer expert and seasoned welders. Thus, everybody wants to work as a freelancer to bolster their CV, profile, and portfolio.

They filter out the applications every six months. So, after applying, you don’t get accepted in the first six months. You have to apply again.

Types of Welding Union

Ironworkers Union

Ironworkers are involved in public works, building construction, structure assembly, and transportation projects. They closely work with civil engineers. Their work is rich in variety. The building projects range from public, private to even industrial.

Their welding skills are much needed in fixing metro trains, cargo trains, and bridge maintenance. 40% of total revenue from welding in the great state of Pennsylvania comes from work related to train tracks. Ironworkers are in great need in mining and petroleum sites as well.

But perhaps the most well-known and common work for any ironworker is to conduct operations in tall and high-rise buildings. They have to install steel structures in the high-rise buildings. So, they cannot have a fear of elevation. They must have reasonable control over mathematics and expertise in cranes, hammers, and other heavy-duty machines.

Such sensitive work needs years of practice, learning, and training. Generally, they need to work under a senior ironworker for 3-4 years on such high-risk projects. Every year they need to study mathematics, design blueprint, and measurements for 144 hours each year.

They directly also need to be associated with the job for 2000 hours per year. Such experience is the backbone for their future skillset. After four years, they will be experts in managing metal frameworks for various structural purposes.

Some of the crucial responsibilities of an ironworker include

  1. Cutting metal sheets to bring down into desirable size and process them.
  2. Align the processed metal sheets to create the desired metal framework.
  3. Assistance in bulldozing of tall and high-rise buildings.

Boilermakers Union

Boilermaker unions are, without a doubt, one of the strongest in the world. Boilermaker unions date back 120 years. The reason for them being so strong and long-lasting is that they have attractive salaries and other benefit packages. There are other facilities included.

Every full member of the union enjoys a single-payer healthcare system, including dental services. They have retirement packages; all of the tools and machinery are supplied by the union. The union even sets them up. The unions even have their state-of-the-art own training center. Certificates are issued from such centers. Those certificates are prestigious and hold coveted value in the profession of welding.

Boilermakers union works aggressively to protect the welders from dangerous workplaces. According to the international labor organization (ILO), the boilermaker unions are one of the most successful in securing a safe workplace.

They also have established the profession of boilermakers. They also ensured space for the welders to share their views, skills, and experience. There are pay raises scheduled for workers every year. (every six months in some states of the USA, I.E., California, Ohio)

Boilermakers are mostly needed on gas and power plants. The department of labor’s subordinate federal agency BLS (bureau of labor statistics) estimates 10 thousand boilermakers are working as contractors in the coal industry, but this sector is seeing downsizing.

However, on the other hand, we have seen the stabilization of boilermaker’s figures in power, gas plants, factories, and oil fields. We are not sure about the future in such sectors. The Boilermakers’ main job is to build boilers that heat gas and liquids that generate massive pressure. Such pressure creates mechanical, electric, and heat energy, which helps to power other systems.

Pipefitters Union

As the name suggests, the main work here is designing, constructing, and placing pipelines. They additionally have to maintain and repair any damages done to such channels. Such pipelines are used for the transmission of gas and water. Sometimes even for ventilation as well. 

They need to be experts in mathematics and measurement to design such pipes. They have to be sensitive diggers of the soil as well. They need to make trenches to install the pipelines.

To be a union pipefitter, you have to work under an apprenticeship of 5 years. In those five years, mastery of physics, mathematics, and chemistry is expected. The field here evolves around only pipes, so not much variation is found.

Which Union is Suitable for You?

The ironworkers are a very hard-working and struggling bunch. Such jobs used to be pure blue caller jobs, which propelled people to the middle class. In developed countries, such jobs are now harder to find.

Automation and outsourcing have dealt a significant blow to the ironworker’s union in developed countries. The countries with cheaper labor are benefitting.

Boilermakers need to be extremely careful in technical skills. A lot of boilermakers eventually switch to pipefitting because of the higher pay. Both jobs have a low chance of being outsourced. However, boiler making is a dying trade.

Coal plants are shutting down. There is no viable path for the future of boiler making. However, the scene is for pipefitters is very rosy. According to BLS, pipefitting jobs will increase with an annual growth rate of 16%. A lot of boilermakers are switching careers to pipefitters. The pay here is excellent as well. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)   

Can I make more money as a member of the welder’s union?

Yes, you will make more money as a union member. Union tends to be more connected to businesses, and service seekers are much more inclined to ask for service from the union.

What are my options after completing welding education?

There are three options

  1. Work as a non-union (freelance) welder.
  2. Work as a designated union welder.
  3. Work under an apprenticeship of an established welding entity or a person for job training.

What is a journeyman welder?

A person who has completed a formal course or undertaken an apprenticeship to become a pipe welder. 

Bottom Line

This was our complete guide on how to join a welding union. It has analyzed the level of education you need before joining a union. The skillset and experience is custom before joining were also mentioned. Our analysis also found that the pipefitters seem to be the most lucrative out of the three types of unions.

There are some pros and cons to both sides. We have laid out the facts. It would be best to decide which suits you better and how you want to build your career.

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