William Watson, 5th Year Steamfitter “Prior to the apprenticeship, I was active duty military for six years and did a tour in Afghanistan. I came through the Veterans in Piping (VIP) program where you start with welding. It’s my favorite part of the job–not just to be able to stick two pieces together, but the science of metal, filler, and gas. It keeps your mind going.

“In 2019, I competed in the State Apprentice Contest in the welding category. I was proud to be representing not only 393, but the UA in general and show that we are able to provide highly skilled craftsmen to the workforce.

“I like being in the union, and I like what it stands for: livable wages, affordable health care, and retirement. There’s a lot of nonunion companies that work people to the bone and don’t offer very much in return.

“With the apprenticeship, you’re learning and dedicating your life to better yourself. I think it’s good that there’s vets like me in the trade. There’s a stigma that veterans come out as ticking time bombs. But we’re not: we’re smart, problem solvers, and ready to work and get the job done. I’m excited to be turning out in June, 2021. I feel a lot of freedom, proud to represent the union, and enjoy life the way it should be.”

Jose, 1st Year HVAC/R “I didn’t start the apprenticeship at zero. I graduated from vocational school in Puerto Rico and worked non-union there and in the U.S. for 17 years. Of course, in Puerto Rico you need AC, but no heat. One of my first jobs in the field was an AC install, and I crossed the wires, and heat came out. I had a good laugh about that for a week.

“So much has changed now that I’m learning the right steps in the apprenticeship. I tell my wife that my whole mentality is different now that I’m union. I wish I had known sooner, because as non-union, it was always a struggle with low pay and no health insurance.

“Some people fall into a job, but not me. I love this career. I love working with my hands, figuring things out, and making something from nothing. Installs are the biggest satisfaction: you flip the switch, and the AC or heat goes on.

“In my free time, I like to burn wood drawings, or just work around the house. I have three daughters ages 22, 20, and 16. I have a dog who is like my son. His name is Rico, after what else? Puerto Rico!”