By Bill Parry
They began arriving soon after last Thursday’s ferocious thunderstorm and began staking out spaces along 38th Street just south of Queens Boulevard in Long Island City. Many more came streaming into the neighborhood on Friday evening and by Saturday morning more than 1,400 people were camping out along several blocks waiting for an application for the UA Plumbers Local 1 apprenticeship program that would be handed out Monday morning.
Jeff Durant, a 33-year-old physical therapist from Bellerose, was one of the lucky ones. When he arrived Friday night, he found a spot on 37th Street under some construction scaffolding and as the temperatures reached 94 degrees Saturday, he was thankful for his luck.
“We’re in a good spot right here,” he said, glancing at dozens of shirtless men exposed to the midday sun just a few feet down the street. Durant explained that Local 1 would be handing out applications for the five-year program that requires an apprentice to have over 10,000 hours of on-the-job training as well as more than 1,070 hours of classroom education from certified instructors. The average hourly wage for an “A” plumber is $67 per hour in New York City while a “B” plumber averages $40 an hour with benefits and job security.
“It would give me plenty of options,” Durant said. “It’s always good to have something else to do.”
Nick Aloisi arrived on 37th Street Friday after coaching a youth baseball game in his hometown of Huntington, L.I.
“I’m already a plumber in the union in the B service,” he said. “I’m hoping to get in so I can move up to A. That would be like hitting the jackpot.”
A father and son, who did not want to be identified, got a room at the LaQuinta motel on 37th Street and Queens Boulevard and they took shifts holding their place in line. The son was in the room watching an afternoon Mets game and the father would use to room later in the evening and watch the Yankees game.
Many people set up camping gear with tents or folding canopies and watched portable TVs or listened to radios. Others had laptops and coolers full of beer, water and food.
Ronnie Bullum, 26, came from the Bronx prepared with a folding chair, a huge container of watermelon and a deck of cards. He played poker with some newfound friends who were also waiting for Monday morning to come.
One of the poker players had heard that between 200 and 250 slots in the program would be open this year. Bullum did not seem to mind wasting a weekend considering the long odds of getting into the program.
“This is what I do all summer long. I sit in this chair at a beach or some music festival,” Bullum said. “This is much more productive taking a shot at getting in. My brother did this two years ago and our father did it himself, so it’s a family tradition.”
The 1,000 applications were handed out Monday morning without incident, according to Plumbers Local 1 business agent Ray Rondino. He explained the
applicants need only a high school diploma and will leave the program with an associate degree from SUNY Empire State College. Professors travel to Long Island City and teach the apprentices at the Trade Union Facility at 37-11 37th Ave.
A total of 1,000 applications were handed out, meaning more than 400 were disappointed after waiting all weekend. Arthur Klock, the director of training at the Trade Union Facility, said other unions have tried more modern electronic or computer methods, but Department of Labor fairness rules make it more difficult, so it’s more efficient to line the applicants up over the weekend.
“It a recruitment process and we’ll end up with 500 to 600 ranked places on the list that will fill openings in the program over the next two years,” Klock said. “A lot are disqualified because they don’t meet the requirements and some of the applications don’t even come back. That part mystifies me because they just spent the whole weekend on the sidewalk.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr