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Steamfitters Apprenticeship Program Gives Graduates a Path to the Middle Class

The 8,000-member Steamfitters Local 638, which performs pipe fitting and fire protection work throughout the five boroughs of New York City and Nassau and Suffolk counties, graduated 20 steamfitters from its rigorous five-year apprenticeship program on Thursday, June 11.

Twenty-five percent of the graduates entered the program via the Edward J. Malloy Initiative for Construction Skills, a pre-apprenticeship program with an objective of attracting New York City public high school seniors, and another through Helmets to Hardhats, a training program to assimilate returning U.S. veterans into the building and construction workforce. More than half the graduates come from minority communities. Thirty percent are African American, 20% are Hispanic and 10% are Asian.
Local 638 invests some $100,000 per enrollee for its apprenticeship program in Long Island City, offering classroom and hands-on training to prepare students for middle-class careers in the construction trade. These occupations pay a living wage that enables steamfitters to raise their families in the city where they work, along with health care coverage, disability protections and pensions at the end of their labor intensive career.

Steamfitters maintain what are effectively the hearts, lungs and arteries of New York City’s major buildings, including the Freedom Tower, Empire State Building and Madison Square Garden.

Several of the graduates include:

  • Victor Tineo, graduate of East New York High School of Transit Technology in Brooklyn, entered Local 638’s apprenticeship program through Construction Skills. “When I graduated high school, I didn’t really have a future. Local 638’s apprenticeship program was a way to help my family. My Local 638 classmates have become a second family to me. The program provided me not with only a job, but a career. Now at only age 24, the program has enabled me to purchase a house and get married. It’s truly the American dream,” said Tineo.
    Tineo has worked on the design and install of air conditioning and heating systems in major New York City buildings, including Brookfield Place (formerly the World Financial Center), Barclay’s Center and the A&E Building. “I can be walking down many New York streets, look up and know I was part of that building’s construction,” said Tineo.
  • Rafael Santiago, a graduate of Ralph McKee Vocational High School in Staten Island, entered the apprenticeship program through Construction Skills. “I didn’t know much about steamfitting but after learning more, I realized it was like artwork. From building power plants to heating and cooling systems, I knew it was something I wanted to be a part of,” said Santiago.

Santiago has designed, installed and maintained piping, HVAC systems and fire sprinklers in Madison Square Garden, the Empire State Building, Saint Mary’s Healthcare System for Children in Queens, New York University and Adelphi University. “This program will change your life, from the people you meet to how you interact with others, to giving you a better future both financially and mentally,” said Santiago. “My next step in Local 638 is going into the field as a journeyman. I see myself passing down knowledge to future apprentices and the next generation of steamfitters.”

  • Terrance McKay, an African American graduate of Xavier High School, learned about Local 638’s apprenticeship program through his aunt. “They offered great medical benefits and opportunities I didn’t want to pass up,” said McKay. He has performed work on Madison Square Garden and Towers One, Two and Three of the World Trade Center, which he calls a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.” McKay said, “You leave work feeling like you’ve accomplished something. With this career I now have in New York's construction trade, I will be able to support myself and my family.”
  • Matthew Paladino is a graduate of Calhoun High School in Merrick, Long Island. “I was impressed by Local 638’s reputation amongst the building trades for its very high quality work and benefits,” said Paladino. He has designed, installed and repaired piping, boilers, refrigeration and heating and cooling systems at landmarks, including Macy’s Herald Square, NYU Medical Center, Museum of Natural History, and participated in Sandy relief efforts in the Rockaways. “The quality workmanship that is taught and expected of steamfitters is among the best in the building trade,” said Paladino. “Even 30 years from now, I intend to keep learning by keeping up with technology. Learning something new every day is so important.”
  • Juan Lopez, a graduate of the High School for Construction Trades, Engineering and Architecture in Queens, also entered the apprenticeship program through Construction Skills. In November 2014, Lopez saved the lives of four undercover NYPD officers from a fiery vehicle collision and credited his union training for knowing how to respond. “It opened the door for a career and a better future for myself and my family,” said Lopez.
  • Azan Asmat, a graduate of Queens Vocational & Technical High School, entered the apprenticeship program through Construction Skills. As an apprentice, he installed fire sprinklers throughout New York City’s MTA subway system to safeguard its 5.4 million-plus daily commuters. Many of these stations were previously without sprinklers. “Fire sprinklers save lives and that’s one of the best parts about this trade,” said Asmat.
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