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Union apprenticeships create a pathway to prosperity

Daniel T. O'Brien

The Massachusetts construction boom has created endless opportunities for people looking to learn a skilled trade and enter a career with long-term demand, a living wage, affordable health care and a secure retirement.

With a continuous surge in housing and commercial construction and $12 billion in unprecedented federal relief funds flowing into the Commonwealth for infrastructure, the number of jobs building roads, bridges, public buildings, transit hubs and other major projects is only expected to rise. And thanks to President Biden and his vision to create good, family-sustaining jobs, it’s very likely many of these jobs will be union jobs, ensuring workers are paid a prevailing wage and have essential labor protections.

Local 537 is proud to have strong partnerships with programs like Building Pathways, a nonprofit organization launched in 2011 by the Greater Boston Building Trades Union. Building Pathways is dedicated to the recruitment, retention and advancement of women, people of color and urban young adults throughout the building trades, and works to remove economic, educational and social barriers that far too many people face in their pursuit of a career. Local 537 is thrilled to have apprentices and journeypersons who’ve built their careers with our Local through the Building Pathways pre-apprenticeship program.

One of our 2022 apprenticeship graduates, Matthew Joseph, a Randolph resident, was working multiple low-paying jobs, including running an after-school program in Brockton and working at an auto body shop. He was in search of financial and professional stability and learned about the Building Pathways pre-apprenticeship program. Matthew entered the program and underwent training at Pipefitters Local 537’s brand new, 70,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art training center, which opened in 2019.

Many apprentices like Matthew can “earn while they learn,” getting invaluable on-the-job experience while taking classes at night. After completing the rigorous five-year training program, participants graduate as union journeypersons with jobs, great benefits and most of all — zero debt.

Matthew was one of our nearly 500 apprentices. He and his fellow apprentices and journeypersons are among the best-trained pipefitters, welders, and HVAC technicians in the construction industry and are working on job sites across the region, helping to build our communities.

“It’s been an amazing experience to enter a growing industry and be able to learn a trade while getting paid a living wage,” Matthew says. “Learning on the job while earning a salary was a game-changer for me, as it allowed me to avoid taking on huge student loan debt and gave me a head start on building my future.”

For decades now, unions like ours have quietly and steadfastly trained workers through our joint labor management apprenticeship programs. While summer internships sponsored by huge corporations get all the buzz, year in and year out, we’re training nearly 500 apprentices across our pipefitting and refrigeration programs at Local 537.

America was built by union workers, and strong unions are the key to ensuring the kind of jobs that allow all communities to thrive. With stronger protections for union rights and public support for unions rising, we want to continue to see opportunities for everyone to grow throughout the building trades.

And thanks to the hard work and commitment of Massachusetts unions, there are more options than ever for workers to unite in unions and build a pathway to prosperity.

Daniel T. O’Brien is business manager of Pipefitters Local 537