By Joe Tansey
Insulators and Asbestos Workers Union Local 89 may be small in size, but that’s what makes the bond between its members and apprentices so special. Local 89 keeps its classes for the five-year apprenticeship program small, and those involved get more one-on-one time with instructors.
“I think because the program is smaller, we’re able to be really hands on,” says fifth-year apprentice Patrick Delli. “I learned a lot. I didn’t know anything when I first got in and now I can basically do anything. I think being in a small union and knowing everybody is like being in a family.”
“I enjoy how tight everybody is,” says second-year apprentice Fred Davies. “I’ve developed a lot of friendships being in the local. I just like how everybody gets along and helps each other out.”
“Right now, I have 16 apprentices,” says Local 89 business agent C.J. Gesemyer. “I believe we took in four this year; we usually take in four or five a year. We’re a small local, but we like to keep our guys working.”
Local 89 casts a wide net to bring the best of the best into its apprenticeship program. “I go to job fairs, women’s clubs and inner cities,” says Gesemyer. “I go anywhere I can to find good apprentices. We look for diversity and do the best we can with that. We go from New Brunswick to Cape May so we cover central and southern New Jersey.”
Most of the apprenticeship program focuses on commercial work. “There’s a curriculum for every year,” Gesemyer says. “They start out doing simple duct wrap on duct work and then plumbing pipes with fiberglass installation. The fourth and fifth year apprentices do metal jacketing, PVC jacketing, and more on the industrial side. We try to keep our apprentices focused on commercial, that’s where we have the majority of work.”
“Our apprenticeship program lasts five years, including 720 hours in school when they’re not paid, and 9,000 work hours,” Gesemyer says.
Both Gesemyer and Delli turned to the union after going through college and not getting out of it what they expected. “I went to college, but then I got into the apprenticeship program, and I’m very glad I did,” Gesemyer says. “For a lot of these guys, it’s a great way to make a living. The apprenticeship was the best thing to happen to me.”
“I went to community college for a while,” says Delli, “and I thought it was too much like high school. It just wasn’t for me. If you just don’t know what you want to do in life, I think joining one of the unions is a good idea. It gives you guidance and teaches you how to do something that will make you money, provide a retirement, and you can do it for however long you like.”
Gesemyer has plenty of advice for someone who may be weighing their options after high school, and who may not think college is the way to go.
“Feel free to stop by a union hall,” Gesemyer said. “We’re not scary people, we’re out to help. We want a good workforce. I wish when I was in high school that the building trades would’ve come through and showed me what they did, but I didn’t have that.
“I’d tell a high schooler to think long and hard about it before you spend all that money on college,” Gesemyer says. “These are jobs that are going to be around forever. They’ve been around for 100 years and they’ll be around for another 100 years. Everybody needs an insulator or an electrician. We build things, that’s what we do.”
In addition to being a tight knit group, family is a key theme that drew some of the current apprentices into the program. Delli’s brother works as a teacher in the program, and Davies received plenty of push from family members in other unions.
“I was working in a factory after high school,” says Delli, “and they were laying off, so my brother suggested I come here.”
“A lot of my family is in unions, and a friend of mine is in this local,” Davies said. “I saw him when he came joined and heard about all the projects that he does. I look up to him as a positive person in my life.”
One thing is clear when talking to anyone involved in the Local 89 apprenticeship program. Giving back is vital at some point during their time in the union.
“I was talking to a friend of mine the other day and we were talking about how fast it goes by,” Davies says. “I was telling him that I can’t wait to teach apprentices what was taught to me when I came in.”