Rchard Bermack Photography


Sheet Metal Workers Local 104 Training Center

Organized Labor

Sheet Metal Workers’ Local 104 Training Center At the sheet metal training center in San Francisco, across the hall from a room with rows of yellow wooden drafting tables circa 1950s, another classroom is filled with AutoCAD computers and a video projector. “Some things have changed a lot and others are still the same,” explains Frank Cuneo, the training coordinator for Sheet Metal Workers’ Local 104. “We still use traditional drafting tools for basic layout, incidental patterns and sketching, and we use AutoCAD and other specialized software for detailing ductwork and complex layouts.” Downstairs in a shop class, large soldering irons line the wall. Cuneo points to a hand-cranked turning machine for forming seams to join circular metal duct work, a machine that is identical to those made during colonial times. At another training facility, plasma and laser pattern cutters are driven by computers. “Skills like soldering sheet metal seams and making weather tight connections are the same today as ever, but computers have made a big difference in the ways a lot of things are cut and fabricated,” said Cuneo. One of the unique things about the trade is that workers start with a flat piece of sheet metal, much as they have for centuries. The training center teaches apprentices how to fabricate that flat sheet of metal into a three-dimensional object and then install it at a jobsite. They also train apprentices in the service aspect of the trade, including preventative maintenance, testing and balancing HVAC systems, trouble shooting, and system repair. All this requires a lot of one-to-one communication with customers, so good public relations skills are a program requirement. Another aspect of the trade is architectural work, which involves creating metal roofs and ornamental designs. Green technology plays a large part in the trade. Cuneo recalls the early days of solar, in the 1970s, when systems were designed around passive and active air heating systems. With the emphasis on energy conservation, there is an increased demand for testing heating systems and keeping them working efficiently. The program is constantly trying to keep up with industry trends. “It is a joint venture between the union workers and employers,” Cuneo explains. “In recent years, our employers and the union have been working together to improve the training program. We have come to realize that we are partners. We train workers to deliver what employers need, and they realize the importance of the union and union workers in maintaining the standards of the trade.” The sheet metal apprentice program is a five-year program, consisting of 214 hours of classes a year and full-time work with a Sheet Metal Workers’ Local 104 Contractor. The San Francisco Training Center is one of five Local 104 training centers, including centers in San Jose, San Leandro, Burlingame, and Petaluma. The program has about 800 apprentices and turns out 125 journey workers per year.