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Legislators tour local union's job training facility

Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 262 program turns pipe dreams into reality

Posted: January 27, 2012 - 1:09am
Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau, watches as Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole, is shown how to make a plastic fusion weld by first-year apprentice Kellen Kraft during a visit to the Juneau Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 262 training program on Thursday. Sen. Egan, Chair of the Senate Labor & Commerce Committee, sponsored the visit.  Michael Penn/Juneau Empire
Michael Penn/Juneau Empire
Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau, watches as Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole, is shown how to make a plastic fusion weld by first-year apprentice Kellen Kraft during a visit to the Juneau Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 262 training program on Thursday. Sen. Egan, Chair of the Senate Labor & Commerce Committee, sponsored the visit.

Legislators toured the Plumbers and Pipefitters Local Union 262 apprenticeship training facility to bring attention to job creation in Alaska.

Sens. Bettye Davis, D-Anchorage, Dennis Egan, D-Juneau, Donny Olson, D-Nome and Linda Menard, R-Wasilla, Reps. Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage and Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole, and representatives from the Department of Labor & Workforce Development stopped by the union’s hiring hall and training center Thursday afternoon to learn more about the facility and watch a demonstration for welding the type of plastic pipe used in ground source heat pumps.

Egan, who is the chairman of the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee said the legislators chose to tour the facility to familiarize themselves with the type of training facility that prepares Alaskans for Alaskan jobs.

“So that we can get more familiar with what exactly is going on with unions,” Egan said. “A lot of the members of Labor and Commerce [Senate Committee] and a lot of other legislators haven’t been to a training facility,” Egan said.

Egan said Alaska needs trained workers to fill jobs that may be currently taken by non-Alaskans. According to a recent study by the McDowell Group, 56 percent of workers employed in North Slope jobs are not Alaska residents. So, the legislators visited the Plumbers and Pipefitters to see how Alaska’s future workforce is made, Egan said.

“It’s all because unions have been talking about local hire,” Egan said. “The main thing that a lot of us are concerned about is training Alaskans so that they can get good high-paying jobs on the slope or working at Kensington or Greens Creek (mines).”

The University of Alaska Southeast works with Alaskan mines to train miners for jobs locally and around the state.

Local 262’s five-year apprentice program requires plumbers and pipefitters to complete 5,000 hours before they can transition to journeymen, said Bradley Austin, training coordinator instructor at Local 262. Journeymen must complete 8,000 before they can test to become a plumber.

Kellen Kraft demonstrated plastic fusion welding for the group of lawmakers. Kraft has been in the union’s apprenticeship program for six months.

“It has been a great opportunity,” Kraft said. He has a bachelor’s degree, but he said he “wanted to do something a little more active.”

Kraft welded two pieces of high-density polyethelene with a seam that, in the cross-section, looked like one piece of plastic.

The training facility also gives advanced training for specific certifications, Austin said. He gave the example of advanced training needed to install piping for oxygen in a hospital.

“Basically we’re installing the system that sends prescription drugs to the patient,” Austin said. “In a hospital you don’t get oxygen unless a doctor prescribes it.”

Local 262 owns 60 percent of building on Anka Street and the Training Trust owns the rest, Austin said. The facility has a hiring hall, a classroom and shop.

“And on the second floor are our bunkhouses where apprentices can stay for free when they come here from Ketchikan and Sitka,” Austin said.

Before the facility was built, apprentices would have to travel to Anchorage and Fairbanks to complete their apprenticeships.

Class sizes vary some, but 12 to 16 apprentices in the program at one time is typical.

While at the training facility, apprentices are not employed. The training consists of two, three-week sessions totaling 240 hours of learning time.

“Eight hours a day, five days a week,” Austin said. “The rest of their apprenticeship is on the job, so they are earning money,” Austin said.

The program is free to apprentices and is paid for by contributions from potential future employers, Austin said.

While Plumbers and Pipefitters 262 has been around since 1937, according to a union publication, the Anka Street facility opened its doors in 2004.

Local 262 accepts applications from March to the end of April. Students can earn college credit while studying and special programs exist for interested high school students.

For more information visit bit.ly/AwD2MD.

• Contact reporter Russell Stigall at 523-2276 or at russell.stigall@juneauempire.com.

• Editor's note: This article has been changed to reflect the fact that Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole, was one of the legislators who made the visit.

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