By TIM ROWDEN
North County – Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 562 broke ground June 8 on a new $12 million training campus that will include a new national welding school to train United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters (UA) members from throughout the country.
The national welding school will also recruit and train welders from throughout the country to serve as a “road local” under Local 562 to answer the need for welders on major projects nationwide.
Local 562 is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year and the new training facility and national welding school at the union’s Larimore Road complex will ensure that Local 562 and the UA are well prepared for the next 100 years, Business Manager John O’Mara said.
“You don’t see too many companies that are around for 100 years,” O’Mara said. “A lot of companies have to go out of business because they can’t keep up with change. But we’ve kept all this training and teaching going and changed with the times to meet new material demands and skill levels. It takes a lot to be around for 100 years doing something. It says a lot for the guys that started this. They really got something going and learned early that they needed to teach the younger generations how to do this and we keep doing that. That’s the key.”
Local 562’s approximately 4,500 members serve the plumbing and mechanical industry in 67 counties in Eastern Missouri with highly skilled plumber and pipefitter foremen, journeymen and apprentices.
Local, state and national dignitaries at the ceremony included St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay; St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley; Mike O’Mara, St. Louis County Council chairman and an international representative for the United Association; Jeff Aboussie, executive secretary-Treasurer of the St. Louis Building and Construction Trades Council; Bob Soutier, president of the Greater St. Louis Labor Council; and Dave Zimmermann, president/business manager of Sheet Metal Workers Local 36. Many other union and public officials also were on hand.
TRAINING THE NEXT GENERATION
The new training complex will include two new buildings housing 97,000 square feet of classroom and hands-on training space.
The new facilities will be constructed adjacent to Local 562’s old retirement center, which is being revamped to serve as a dormitory for out-state and out-of-state members receiving training.
Training a skilled union workforce has been the mark of Local 562 since its beginning. Local 562’s members have a national reputation for being among the best in the U.S.
Bill Lille, administrative assistant to UA General President William P. Hite said the idea for the national welding school and road local came about in response to a shortage of qualified welders across the country.
UA approached Pat Kellett, former business manager of Local 562, with the concept, Lille said, and 562 stepped up.
“This is going to be a place where any one of our local unions in the country can come when they have a shortage of welders and put a call in to Local 562 and they’ll be able to dispatch welders to these projects anywhere in the country, which is a monumental help to everyone of our local unions and to our customers around the country,” Lille said. “This is a wonderful, wonderful thing.”
Kellett, now director of business development, communications and marketing for the UA, said the new welding program opened an avenue for 562 to update the training facilities for all of its trades.
In addition to the national welding school, the new training center will also provide up-to-date training for plumbers and HVAC service techs.
“This welding program gave us an opportunity to build a new school for all of our members,” Kellett said. “This is a big day for us. This is going to be a great way to recruit the next generation.”
O’Mara, Local 562’s current business manager, said the project is being paid for through member contributions and United Association funds, which are covering the cost of the welding school.
“Each and every member kicked back 50 cents off their paycheck to pay for this training center for the next 10 years,” O’Mara said.
“Even in these bad times, the membership knew we needed this, that training is the only way we’re going to keep going and the only way our future is going to be bright,” O’Mara said.
The union’s current training facilities at Lilac and Kenran Industrial Blvd. will be closed when the new facility opens in August 2013. The local also has training facilities in Fulton and Cape Girardeau.
O’Mara said the property at Lilac and Kenran will eventually be sold to help defray a portion of the construction costs.
THE BEST OF THE BEST
O’Mara said Local 562 officials toured UA training facilities across the U.S. and Canada, and brought the best ideas and methodologies back to use in the new training center.
“We’ve wandered the country and seen some of the finest training centers in the world, and we’ve got pieces and parts and ideas from all of them,” O’Mara said.
Building the campus-style training center at the Larimore Road complex will also provide room for future expansion.
Work on the training center is slated to begin in late July or mid-August and wrap up by August 2013.
HONORED TO BE SELECTED
HBD Construction has been tapped to build the new training complex.
A longtime mainstay of the St. Louis building industry, HBD is celebrating its 90th anniversary this year.
HBD President Mike Perry said the training complex will be 100 percent union built and will create 300 to 400 part-time and full-time jobs.
“HBD has had a long and healthy relationship with labor throughout the history of our company,” Perry said. “We truly couldn’t be more honored and excited to have been chosen to build this amazing facility, not only for today, but for future generations of plumbers and pipefitters.
“I can seriously say when you’re tapped on the shoulder by the industry itself that helps you build, by folks you’ve worked with in these ways for 90 years and for three and four generations, we recognize that this is a very special project. It’s a very special relationship and we’re very honored.”