By Matthew Monks
Local 6A of the Cement & Concrete Workers is launching classes March 1 for its four-year apprenticeship program in its new home at 29-18 35th Ave., said Carmine Datello, 60, training director.”Over the years we lost our skilled work force as they retired and now, through the apprentice program, we found a perfect way to fill the void,” Datello said. “What we're trying to accomplish here is to have a skilled and professional work force and to keep our union strong.”The union had 4,000 active members back in the 1960s and 1970s, said Barry Kaplan, union president and business manager. Today it has about 1,800 with retirees outnumbering active members 2-to-1, he said. It moved to Astoria from Brooklyn in January.An apprenticeship starts with a two-week class that goes over the basics in placing, spreading, compacting, finishing and curing concrete for buildings, roads, tunnels and bridges, Datello said. Then the union places the workers on jobs with a starting pay of $15.95 an hour. If they complete 1,000 hours of fieldwork and 144 hours of classroom time each year, they become full journeymen in four years, earning $48 an hour with a pension and benefits. Take home pay after taxes averages $32 an hour.”It's a great career choice,” said Larry Hughes, 61, an instructor with the program.He should know. He went into the trade at age 18 in 1962 and qualified for his pension 20 years later when he was just 48. He kept working through his 50s and finally retired in 2000. “I was able to raise four children, send them all to college out of my salary,” Hughes said. Kaplan expects concrete workers to have their hands full in the next five to eight years with the city gearing up for a series of huge projects like the redevelopment of the Lower West Side in Manhattan and construction of seven high-rises on the Long Island City waterfront in a project dubbed Queens West.Datello is in the midst of reviewing 700 applications for 30 slots in the classes that start in March. He expect to begin taking new applicants in early spring. Visit the New York State Department of Labor Web site www.labor.state.ny.us to learn more. Reach reporter Matthew Monks by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.