Plaster, the Union and You (Part 2)
Last month, I included part of an interview with William Rogers. He has had a long and rewarding history as a plasterer and trainer in the union. The rest of my interview with Rogers follows:
Plaster Man: With regard to the union, what kind of training is available?
William Rogers: Training opportunities are based upon national standards but will vary slightly from area to area that can be adjusted to meet the employer requirements or industry trends. The apprenticeship instructors are qualified journeymen with years of practical and classroom experience. They attend national training courses on an annual basis to maintain and update their knowledge of new products, materials and teaching techniques.
The basic plastering course outline includes: gypsum based materials, including everything from conventional three-coat work to veneer systems, Portland cement (stucco) plastering, EIFS, fireproofing, Level 5 drywall finishing, ornamental staff work, mold making, specialty finishes, patching and repair (all disciplines), labor history, basic lathing materials, scaffold safety, First-Aid and CPR, equipment safety and use, blueprint reading and trade-related math.
Specialty journeymen upgrading classes have included: Free form plastering (i.e., rock carving), foreman training, Venetian plaster, advanced blueprint reading and estimating. Other aspects of the trade that area employers desire for the their workforce can be included into an upgrading program through the local labor/management training committee.
PM: What type of conventions and/or meetings does the union have?
WR: A lot of them! Union meetings are generally held on a monthly basis. This is where the rank and file member can come and meet with the union officials to ask questions on employment opportunities, the status of pending contract negotiations and a wide variety of general information subjects.
There are also labor-management meetings, district council meetings, international conventions and national training advisory committee meetings.
This past February at the World of Concrete Trade Show, in Las Vegas, the Operative Plasterers and Cement Masons International Association hosted a national competition of apprentices from all over the United States and Canada. Thirty-five apprentices competed in a two-day event that included the use of blueprint reading, colored veneer, EIFS and ornamental plastering. These competitions help to keep the edge on our local programs and ensures each program meets and exceeds our national standards.
PM: There has been a lot of worry on the part of homeowners and builders when it comes to the decline in quality that is put out by many trades today. Do you think this is happening in the plastering trade, and if so, how is the union involved in trying to correct this?
WR: In my opinion, the primary reason for the problem is greed. There are some contractors (and I use that term loosely) that simply “rape and run.” After taking a scorch-and-burn approach to the marketplace, they file for bankruptcy and run off to another area or state, get a new slick name, maybe find a new unsuspecting partner, and open up shop to pillage over and over again. These kinds of contractors should be barred from the business (fortunately some are). Unfortunately, in the meantime they discredit credible companies (both union and non-union alike) and the entire industry. No amount of training or manufacturer certification is ever going to change the habits of these bottom feeders.
The union is continually offering the opportunity to become a union member to non-union employees (thereby providing training to more and more craftsmen who work at the trade) and as a result there is a slow but steady migration in progress. The pool of “qualified” labor is increasingly heavier on the side of the union and union employers. However, this migration is always in motion; sometimes it slows to a crawl and other times it flows like a river.
I have always maintained that when the cost of labor and materials are equal, the company with the best quality married to the best productivity will prevail over the long haul.
PM: Can you give some details on how union projects are run?
WR: Union companies that run large commercial projects generally have a very structured management tree—including superintendent(s), project managers, trade foremen, journeymen and apprentices. Smaller union companies are often family operations with fewer management players who wear multiple hats, with labor being supplemented from the union hall. These smaller projects often have a job foreman, journeymen and one or two apprentices who are all overseen periodically by someone from the main office—usually an owner or their superintendent.
PM: How many plasterers work together on any given job?
WR: Union jobs can range from a single plasterer to more than 200. On the recent Disney expansion in Anaheim, Calif., the union had about 250 plasterers working at one time on this plaster intensive site. On average, a union crew is made up of three journeymen plasterers, one apprentice and one laborer (aka “plaster tender” or “hodcarrier”). As the project needs grow this receipt can be expanded upon, and of course the ratio too can fluctuate, depending on management and job conditions.
PM: What types of projects does the union take on?
WR: It runs the gamut: Commercial: schools, hospitals, prisons, shopping centers, churches, theaters, high-rise offices, sports complexes, and amusement parks. Light commercial: strip malls, small business offices and restaurants. The entertainment industry: motion picture and TV program set construction, special effects (sculpting and mold making), amusement park maintenance. To a lesser extent, residential: high-end custom homes to track housing and apartments. Remodeling: historical structures (both residential and commercial), decorative finishing and large additions. The style or type of work we apply is as varied as the projects we work on.
PM: In your opinion, where is the plastering industry headed?
WR: In the short term, I see a trend towards more hybrid systems that combine the best aspects of acrylic and Portland cement systems. The use of these various forms of plaster as the primary material in theming projects such as casinos, hotels, amusement parks and restaurants offers the plasterer and plastering contractor a continuing challenge to blend materials and skills to achieve what no other product can. Interior systems such as colored veneers, Venetian plaster and Level 5 drywall are continuing to grow in popularity, and as this demand increases the supply of skilled plasterers needed to apply these finishes increases—countering the once held belief that plastering was a “dying trade.”
The construction industry’s oldest profession will continue to change and evolve to meet the needs of designers, builders and owners. Plastering is a paradox: It is both the most basic and most challenging of trades, and because of its versatility, visual artistry and durability, it will continue to endure the test of time.
PM: Where can someone go to get more information on training that the union offers in plastering?
WR: The Operative Plasterers and Cement Masons International Association offers two avenues to becoming an apprentice: If someone has past experience and/or the means to begin entry-level employment in the trade, he should contact our national Apprenticeship Training Department for a contact number of a local training program in their home area: Operative Plasterers and Cement Masons International Association, Director of Training and Safety Gerry Ryan, 14405 Laurel Place, Suite 300, Laurel, MD, 20707, 301-470-4200 or visit http://www.opcmia.org.
If you are (or know someone) between the ages of 16 through 24 who has been in foster care, dropped out of high school, their family has been on an assistance program or has some other barrier to employment Job Corps may be the answer as a path into a formal apprenticeship program. Pre-apprentices benefit from six to 12 months of extensive training in a government sponsored live-in vocational program where they learn about the tools and materials of the trade, while developing the essential life and work skills to enable them to become productive employees in our industry. For information, call me at 800-424-5111 or visit http://www.opcmiajobcorps.org.
I want to thank Rogers for sharing this information with us. I believe it gives all of us, whether in the field for a short time or for many years, as an employer or employee, a better insight into what the union is about and what it has to offer.
As always, your questions and comments are welcome. Send them in care of this magazine, or visit me on the Web at http://www.plasterzone.com. Until our paths meet, “Ride the White Wave!”