When my young friend graduated from welding school, he was encouraged to join the union. He asked for advice about what it means when you become a member of this organization and how that might affect his paychecks in both good ways as well as bad ones?
There are many benefits of joining unions for welders. Welding unions work to ensure safe, healthy environments so members can enjoy a good quality of life. Unions also negotiate better salaries and retirement benefits that their members deserve.
For many welders joining a welding union is the first step in their career, but it has drawbacks that make them unappealing for some.
In this guide, I answer the following questions and more:
- Should a welder join a union? What are the benefits and disadvantages?
- How much do union welders make?
- Which welding unions should a welder join?
- And more…
Should a Welder Join a Union?
You might be wondering if it is worth joining a welders’ union to get a job. You know welders have many other options because demand is high for those willing to work.
You could work as an independent welder or open your own business with yourself by starting up your own small construction company; however, these paths won’t always guarantee income stability.
So what is the best decision for you, join or union or work as a non-union welder? Before you make a snap decision, let’s look at some of the benefits union welders have:
Benefits of Welder Unions: Top Reasons to Join a Union
When welders come together, things become better for everyone. Joining welder unions has several benefits, and so it is little wonder that more than 1/4th of all welders in the United States belong to welding unions. Here are some of the main benefits of joining a union:
#1. Better wages and benefits
Through a union, workers can demand better wages, decent work hours, medical and retirement benefits, and more family time. Welders who belong to unions get a collective bargaining power. A welder without a coalition backing him may not be in a position to negotiate for better wages and benefits, as mentioned earlier.
Through the union, welders can negotiate and renegotiate their work contracts with their employers. They can renegotiate their salary, seek better work-life balance, the number of work hours they are comfortable with, paid sick leaves, and comprehensive safety policies.
Unions can also help increase worker compensations, minimum wages, Family Medical Leave Act, and American Disability Act.
A welder who works at an unionized workplace is also more likely to have 401K plans, pension plans, IRA, and other retirement benefits which solo or freelance welders may not get.
The most crucial advantage of unions is that they ensure that the workplaces meet the most stringent safety standards.
#2. Protection of member’s rights
A welder that does not belong to any union is at a greater risk of being fired for things that sometimes don’t even happen at the workplace. With unions, these rights can be are protected. A welder will have a permanent workplace advocate, thanks to the association. Should a disciplinary process takes place against the welder, they can contest it and ensure that the grievance procedures are followed.
#3. Unions can be extremely beneficial during a crisis
The world has been battling the Covid-19 pandemic for the past couple of years. Now more than ever, the pandemic has highlighted the need for unions. Unions have given welders a collective voice during the crisis. Many unionized welders could secure enhanced safety measures, sick/leave pay, and work-share arrangements to save jobs.
#4. The union difference is clear
If the above benefits are still not impressive, then take a look at some of the statistics:
- Health insurance and pension plans
According to the AFSCME (American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees) California website, union members can have better health insurance and pension plans. Nearly 95% of union members have health insurance and pension plans against the 68% (health insurance) and 63% (pension) of workers not belonging to unions.
- Sick leave
According to the AFL-CIO (American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations), almost 91% of workers in a union received paid sick leaves as against 73% that are not in a union. (The AFL-CIO is the largest federation of unions. It is reported to have 12 million workers worldwide.)
- Higher median wages per week
The weekly earnings of unionized welders are estimated to be nearly $200 more in their median weekly wages compared to non-unionized workers.
- Better rights for minorities
The median weekly wages for unionized Latinos could be almost $300 more than for Latinos not with a union. Likewise, the median weekly wages for unionized Blacks are nearly $200 more than those without union membership.
Cons of Joining Welding Unions
It is good to know about the downside of joining welding unions. This will help you make an informed decision:
#1. High union fees
Joining a union isn’t free or cheap. Some unions ask members to pay nearly two hours’ worth of work wages per month, while some charge a fee between $200 and $500 per year. This can be a significant amount for someone just starting out. Also, there are other fees involved in union memberships like an apprenticeship, initiation fees, and annual/monthly fees. These can also add up.
#2. Could lead to discord between the workers and the companies
Sometimes, unions pitch their members against their client company, negatively impacting the workplace culture. Often, unions do not allow workers and Company officials to work towards the same goals. Also, there may be members that do not agree with the changes the unions suggest. This, too, can lead to tension and conflicts between workers and the union.
#3. Could lead to political tension
Some worker unions are affiliated with lobbyists and governments at the local, state, and federal levels. If a member does not agree or support these causes, there could be conflicts. A worker would still have to join in the strikes even if they don’t want to.
Now that you know what joining a union entails let us move on to the unions one can join as a welder.
Which Unions Can Welders Join in the USA?
You can choose between Ironworkers, Pipefitters, or Boilermaker unions as a welder.
Joining a union is not straightforward; you need to meet specific pre-requisites. These prerequisites differ from union to union. Some unions have rigorous education and experience related-requirements, while others may demand mandatory work experience or apprenticeship.
Most welder unions require their members to get mandatory AWS certification. AWS stands for the American Welding Society. The basic AWS certified welding program is open to all, and there are no prerequisites or courses you need to take for it. You can appear for the certification exam at any accredited testing facility or give the exam online.
When you belong to the Ironworkers union, you can get jobs in the construction industry. You will be working on private, commercial, residential, and industrial building projects. You could be involved in constructing or repairing roads and highways, on tall buildings, etc.
You must know how to use different welding tools outdoors just as you use them in the workshop. As an Ironworker, your primary responsibility would be using welding tools in workshops or outdoors, demolition of structures, and installing iron structures.
Here are some pre-requisites for joining the Ironworkers’ union:
- Age 18+ years
- Education – minimum high school diploma, GED
- Physically strong, agile, and have a good sense of balance
- Refrain from drugs and alcohol consumption
- Abide by citizenship laws
To find the local Ironworker’s unions, click here.
The only pre-requisite to joining a Boilermaker’s Apprenticeship Program is to be 18 years of age. You also need to show a copy of your high school diploma or GED. You will also need to read the Guidelines for Apprenticeship Approved Standards.
If you have experience in welding, you will be grouped with other experienced welders. Applicants then go through a random selection process to be indentured into an apprenticeship program. Veterans are given top priority in this selection.
Boilermaker welders work in the energy industry, and you will be responsible for working on turbines, steam engines, etc. You’d also be skilled in tank cleaning, extensive pipe maintenance, and reducing air pollution in chimneys.
Click here to join union boilermaker.
Pre-requisites for joining pipefitters union include:
- At least 17 years of age
- Must be a citizen of the US or must have applied for the naturalization process
- High school diploma or GED
- Driver’s license
- Pay a fee, and apply for an aptitude test.
- If they reach the cut-off score in the aptitude test, candidates will have to give a drug test.
Pipefitters perform complex tasks like pipe cutting and threading. They also perform maintenance on large pipe systems and replace the worn-out parts.
Click here to find out more.
Do Union Welders Make More Money Than Non-Union Welders?
In general, union welders make more money than their non-union counterparts; however, your earnings depend on your welding degree, certifications, and experience. According to Comparably, the US median salary of union welders is $69,910.
On average, the salary of unionized workers is higher than non-unionized workers. According to statistics released in 2021, union welders averaged $43,891, and non-union welders earn just under $40,000 a year.
How Hard is it Getting into a Welding Union?
These days, it is relatively challenging to join welders’ unions since many US Labor Laws post massive strike waves have made it difficult for organizing unions in the first place. This is further exacerbated by the fact that the courts have allowed the removal of membership fees and dues payment to workers who are not in favor of union representation.
What is the best-paying welding job?
In general, rig and underwater welders are the best paying welding jobs; they can make up to $200,000 per year.
How much do union pipeline welders make?
Top pipeline welders belonging to unions make almost $95,000 with an average hourly wage of $45.
How much do California union welders make?
According to ZipRecruiter, California union welders make almost $39,247 a year.
Whether or not to join a welders union is a crucial decision every welder will have to make pretty early in one’s career. Joining a welder union has many benefits such as collective bargaining power to demand better wages, workplace safety, retirement benefits, work-life balance, sick paid leaves, etc.
On the downside, joining a union could sometimes lead to disharmony or discord with the company and the union itself. Moreover, joining unions is tough these days, thanks to strict amendments in Labor Laws.
As Alexander Hertel-Fernandez – associate professor of international and public affairs at Columbia University, puts it: “Unions may not be perfect, but they are still a worker’s (welder’s) best shot at securing dignity and rights on the job.”