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Heat and Frost Insulators Joint Apprenticeship Training Committee

Organized Labor

Heat and Frost Insulators Joint Apprenticeship Training Committee Northern California
Insulator mechanics wrap up pipes and duct work with fiberglass or cut out pieces of urethane foam or silicates. They often cover the insulation with a protective layer of sheet metal. Apprentices need to learn to make exact cuts using mathematical formulas to fabricate flat sheets of metal into the skin-like circular coating that zigzags with the miles of pipes and ducts that flow through office complexes and giant skyscrapers. Instructors like Roger Bellamy ingrain formulas like w=.0175xØ(r+1/2d) the miter formula, into their heads. Mechanics insulate hot and cold pipes and vents that transport gas and liquids that range in temperatures from one extreme to the other. Insulators work with materials that transport 3000 degree molten glass in bottle plants and pipes carrying super cool liquids at near absolute zero, minus 450 degrees Fahrenheit, in cryogenic laboratories. "We've been doing green energy conservation for over 100 years," coordinator Bill Hodges states with pride, showing off the apprentices' stylish backpacks with the union's green logo. "Our trade is all about green. We also teach [the apprentices] the need for speed and quality. Union labor is more expensive than non-union, so we need to be doing the job more professionally and putting out a higher quality product." Insulation mechanics isn't for everyone. The apprentice classes have a high drop-out rate, with only about 60 percent completing the first year of the four-year program. According to Hodges, "Almost all of the apprentices who drop out are self drops. It is very labor intensive work, and you have to bundle yourself up so you don't get exposed to the fiberglass and urethanes. You are hot all the time, even when you do refrigeration work, and you go home dirty and sweaty and itchy. Fiberglass is a very itchy material. "I go to job fairs and junior colleges, and especially groups that recruit women into construction. We've had a difficult time getting women into the trade, but the ones who stick with it do great. I ask the ones who drop out why, and they say it's just not for them. They don't like working all bundled up and going home feeling itchy from fiberglass. It can be a very difficult trade for some people, but it's been a great trade for me and provided a great living for me and my family for 30 years." The insulators' union has a traveling job network, allowing Local 16 members to work on jobs all over North America. Hodges and Bellamy have been able to work constantly during their entire careers, even when work was slow in the Bay Area. The apprentice program is 144 hours of classroom time and 1500 hours on-the-job training per year. On the Jobsite visited the training facility in Martinez.