Elevator Constructors, Sprinkler Fitters Show How It’s Done

By Jessica Zimmer, Contributing Writer

San Francisco building trades locals are working to ensure apprentices and members remain safe for in-person training and labs. New measures include hybrid classes, fewer students for in-person work, frequent sanitization of tools and classrooms, and temperature checks and self-assessment questions prior to entry.

IUEC Local 8’s Approach

Greg Hardeman, organizer and journeyman and apprenticeship training chair for International Union of Elevator Constructors (IUEC) Local 8, said the changes are worth the knowledge gained and keeping apprentices safe.

“We saw the number of COVID-19 cases among our membership rise every month between May and August 2021,” Hardeman said. “That’s what caused us to cancel in-person classes for fall 2021.”

Instead, he said, Local 8 is currently offering a weekly class online, with an instructor. In-person labs are happening at the local’s union hall in San Francisco, but there are currently four apprentices in each lab — down from the pre-pandemic four to six.

“Other safety measures include opening the hall’s three huge roll-up doors to allow air to circulate, requiring all people present to wear face masks, frequently cleaning and sanitizing spaces used for training, and requiring everyone to wear gloves,” Hardeman added.

He said that while he is seeing some apprentices struggling, Local 8 is not experiencing a higher failure rate in terms of apprentice performance.

“This is our third semester of online learning. We are adapting. The labs we are holding will alleviate some of the problem,” Hardeman said.

IUEC’s educational program includes pipe and wire lab, which involves learning basic conduit-bending and wiring of various elevator electrical components, and DC (direct current) motor lab, electrical theory and application.

“Motor generators take the incoming alternating current (AC) power from the electrical grid, which spins a motor,” Hardeman said. “The motor turns a generator to create DC power to operate the elevator. Apprentices learn about the different types of DC elevator hoist motors that were commonly used in the older installations. There are a lot of elevators that are still running motor-generator sets.”

Sprinkler Fitters Local 483’s Approach

Stan Smith, business manager for Sprinkler Fitters Local 483, said their apprentices are also doing virtual and in-person work.

“When we transitioned to 100% remote learning, we found some of the Zoom classes were pretty effective,” he said. “So, we’ve decided to give the apprentices a break a few weeks in the semester from coming to our center in Hayward to train.”

Local 483’s in-person training now involves a temperature check and a six-question self-attestation about COVID-19 symptoms before entry.

“We encourage a COVID-19 vaccination to attend in-person training, though we do not require it, Smith said. “We require in-person students to wear a face mask and face shield when students must be within six feet of one another.”

Pauline Smith, administrator for Local 483, said a class of students often use the same tools within a training evening.

“We provide them with wipes to clean the tools between use,” she said. “In addition, an environmental company comes in and sprays the entire facility with antiviral disinfectant, including the tool chest and its contents. This happens three times a week.”

Pauline Smith said Local 483’s classes take place in a large warehouse with a limited number of people.

“We leave the roll-up doors open and also have large fans going to assist with ventilation. The hands-on work is teaching apprentices how to reconstruct a valve; cut, thread, and groove pipes; and other trade skills,” she said, adding that the changes seem to be a bit of a mixed bag. Some apprentices find it easy to learn over Zoom while others need more hands-on time to attain a higher level of proficiency.

Despite the relative smoothness of this new normal (for now) training regime and the bump in business, concerns about the long-term work outlook persist.

“The amount of work that is available has returned to normal levels,” said Stan Smith. “Still, material shortages and the inability of developers and contractors to get permits has made it hard for projects to get off the ground. Although apprentices are getting hands-on training again, we are concerned about the high unemployment rate of our members.”

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