When it comes to taking up professional welding as a career, you have two options to go with. You can either join a welding union and work through them, or stay union-free and do your own thing. Both have their own pros and cons and which one to go with depends on your working style, experience, and social preferences.
If you decide to be a part of a union, the next obvious question on your mind might be how to join a welding union?
There are three things you need to do to join a welding union. First, you need to acquire the appropriate welding certification through the Ironworkers and American Welding Society. Second, you need to research the many pipefitters, boilermakers, or ironworkers unions in your area to find the right one for your needs. Third, you need to submit an application, along with a membership fee, to get accepted.
Unions have different entry requirements. Some require at least 5 years of apprenticeship or experience in welding. Others are more relaxed and take in new members with little to no experience.
Union vs. Non-Union Welding
The comparison between the union and non-union work often comes up in discussions at welding forums. Some say it is better to work on your own while others swear by the benefits of being part of a union.
Before we get into this discussion, you need to realize that every person’s experience is going to be different. Your interaction with a union will differ based on the geographical region you work in, your years of experience, and the availability of work in your city.
On average, union welders tend to earn more than non-union welders. This is because unions are better connected with other businesses and government organizations. Unions have a bigger pool of available welders as members. They can quickly find the right number of welders with appropriate experience for their clients. This makes them more reliable and puts them in a position to charge premium prices.
However, members are required to abide by the rules of the union and submit the membership fees. They may have to work on projects that they are not interested in simply because it is the only job available through the union.
In a way being part of a union is like working for a company. You still have some freedom to choose the type of work that you want, but you don’t have the same level of independence that you get working on your own.
Working as a non-union welder gives you more freedom to take jobs that you want. However, you will find it difficult to charge a higher fee unless you are very experienced and have developed a steady client base.
Both union and non-union welding jobs require you to complete a certain level of education and training. However, the training and apprenticeship requirements are generally higher for most welding unions compared to working on your own.
Although it is not mandatory, attending a welding trade school gives you the best education to work as a professional union welder. A welding school gives you theoretical lectures and practical training that will be indispensable in the field.
Most courses run for 3 to 6 months, and you can learn all the necessary skills and equipment handling procedures within that period. Course topics generally include safety practices, equipment handling, welding symbol charts, cutting torch operations, and metal plate preparation.
You are taught how to make overlap beads, use different types of welding machines, replenish fuel, position plats, and receive guidelines on job attitudes and ethics.
If you want to become a union welder, you will have to get a welding certification through the American Welding Society (AWS). Once you are a union member, the fees to become certified are waived. Certification takes place online these days, but there are accredited testing facilities in most states as well.
Union Worker Job Duties
Welders working through a union generally specialize as ironworkers, pipefitters, or boilermakers. The responsibilities for each of them are outlined below.
Welders that work for ironworking unions help their clients assemble private, commercial, and industrial building structures. They are involved in the construction and rehabilitation of highways and bridges.
This kind of work requires the installation of steel supports for buildings, bridges, roads, and other public works. Ironworkers may have to work on tall buildings from time to time. This means that they must be comfortable working at height and have good balance and perception. They should be good at working with machines out in the open and not just in workshops.
Journeyman ironworkers learn their trade during a 3 or 4-year apprenticeship program. For every year in the program, an apprentice is required to spend at least 144 hours studying mathematics, measurements, blueprint reading, safety practices, and construction techniques.
During the apprenticeship, they must also devote 2,000 hours every year to on-the-job training. The practical training helps them learn how to use ironworking tools to handle, measure, cut, weld, and construct metal frameworks.
Job responsibilities of an ironworker include:
- Arranging and fitting together large iron and steel structures together
- Using metal cutting bending, shearing, and welding tools on-site or in a workshop
- Providing assistance for the demolition of old buildings and metal structures
Boilermaker union welders help construct metal boilers that are used for heating up fluids and gases. These boiler containers produce very high pressure that is required to generate electric power, heat, or mechanical energy to run other systems. These types of boilers are common in shipbuilding, vehicles and machine production, oil extraction, liquid/gas transmission, and power generation.
A boilermaker needs to regularly check and maintain boilers by repairing or replacing faulty components in the device. A boilermaker must be skilled in using welding equipment safely and know how to use riveting and bolting equipment.
A boilermaker usually joins a 4-year apprenticeship program. They must learn processes involving chemical and water composition/pressures at different temperatures. Boilermakers must also obtain full-time practical work experience while they study. Boilermakers are usually expected to work in small, cramped spaces and at dangerous heights, so work conditions can be quite hazardous.
Job responsibilities of a boilermaker include:
- Building, inspecting, and cleaning large tanks and vats
- Using various equipment to align pieces together with precision
- Assembling blast furnaces, steam-powered turbines, air pollution reduction equipment, and smokestacks
- Maintaining larger pipes at dams that direct water to turbines for hydroelectric power generation
Pipefitter union welders assist in designing and laying down mechanical and high-pressure pipelines. They work for gas and water transmission industry as well as power generation plants and other industrial concerns. Pipes are commonly used in various industries and necessary for heating and cooling systems, steam transmission, ventilation, hydraulics, chemicals, and fuel control.
Unionized pipefitters are involved in the whole process of pipefitting from planning to installation and work with tools such as levels, grinders, dies, and welding torches. They need skills in laying, fitting, cutting, and connecting pipes. They also need to be good at digging trenches and must be able to read and understand blueprints and plans. They must be able to follow instructions and plan jobs accordingly.
A 4 or 5-year paid-apprenticeship is required to qualify as a union pipefitter. Extensive classroom work and on the job training must be completed to develop a career as a pipefitter. Classroom work can involve drafting, mathematics, physics, and chemistry.
A pipefitter’s job responsibilities include:
- Measuring and marking pipes for cutting, threading, and welding
- Training in using specific tools such as saws, cutting torches, pipe threaders, benders, and welders
- Designing piping system layouts and performing installations or repairs according to specifications
- Removing and replacing worn components from pipes
How much money does a union welder make?
In the year 2019 – 2020, the average annual pay for welders was $ 43,897, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The top 10 percent of workers earned $67,170.
In general, union welders earn higher salaries compared to welders who work on their own, but wages are determined based on local union pay scales and job site contracts.
What union do welders belong to?
After finishing their education and welding training, welders tend to join different types of unions. First, there are the plumbing and pipefitters unions like the United Association (UA) that mostly work on pipe welding. These could be anything from domestic to private business connections and public works supply lines.
Ironworks unions like the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental, and Reinforcing Iron Workers and Steelwork on all kinds of structures from construction frames to machines, bridges, and vehicle manufacturing jobs.
The third type of welder union includes boilermakers such as the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders, Blacksmiths, Forgers, and Helpers. These welders work with metal structures that will be exposed to high temperatures and other pressure conditions.
How do I join the Plumbing Union?
To join a union, you would first need to acquire the right education and training and get a certificate from the American Welding Society (AWS). You would need to search for a welding union and check to see if you meet all the admission criteria.
If you fulfill their conditions, you can apply online or through their regional office to become a member. Most unions have an entry and annual membership fee that must be paid in order to join.
How do I become a journeyman welder?
The journeyman title is used in many technical and skilled trade occupations. A welder who completes training and specializes in a type of welding job, such as ironworks or pipe welding, can get the title after their training is complete.
Usually, a journeyman title acquired in one industry, type of welding, or union only applies to that industry. Different states provide different types of journeymen titles. Since each union, state, or employer has different requirements for journeymen, you would need to follow their specific guidelines to ensure that you successfully become a journeyman.