By JIM HEDEMARK
Special to The Stand
SPOKANE — Local union pipe trades champions from throughout Washington state competed in Spokane last weekend in four disciplines for top honors and the right to represent the Evergreen State next month at the 11-state UA District 5 regional Pipe Trades Apprenticeship Contest in Concord, Calif.
Your Washington State UA Champions are:
Tyler Wharton of Kennewick (Local 598 – Pasco), Champion Welder;
Corey Mirus of Richland (Local 598 – Pasco), Champion Steamfitter;
Cameron Tse of Seattle (Local 32 – Seattle), Champion Plumber; and
Eric Haberman of Ellensburg (Local 598 – Pasco), Champion HVAC/R (Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning, Refrigeration).
Other state contest competitors included: UA Local 44 – Luke Elmore, Thomas Cheevers, and Mike Evans; UA Local 598 – Jesse Wiebe; UA Local 32 – Bobby Flickinger and Joel Rydzak; and UA Local 26 – Andrew S. Young, Tim Luchau Jr., and Ulysses A. Anderson.
“We are proud of our state champions and stand behind them as they prepare for regionals and hopefully the international competition in Ann Arbor in August,” said Brett Wideman, Director of Training at the Spokane Plumbers & Steamfitters (UA Local 44), which hosted the competition. “Although this annual competition challenges and rewards individual skill, the apprenticeship training teams around our state share in the credit for the standard-setting level of competition and craftsmanship that builds our communities and sustains our families.”
See some more great photos of the event by UA 44 friend and photographer Rachel Grace.
“I’m very proud of our Local’s success at this state competition, and our apprentices are already preparing for regionals,” said Brad Chitty, Director of Training at the United Association Local Union 598 based in Pasco. “The real win is to showcase union apprenticeship. We are proud of our plumbing, pipefitting, welding, and HVAC-R that goes on in our state and the quality the union brings to the table.”
Apprentices in the Pipe Trades Unions must complete 10,000 hours of supervised work and an average of 1,250 hours of classroom time, upon which they earn Journeyman status which is increasingly one of the world’s most transportable and in-demand designations.
“Continually refining the apprenticeship process, which is hundreds of years in the making, is a source of much pride,” said Washington State Apprenticeship Training Council member Pat Perez. “Our earn-while-you-learn approach makes the apprentices’ return on investment second to none.”
A Personal Perspective from Jim Hedemark, Real Apprentice Wannabe
As the city and citizens of Spokane prepared for last weekend’s big Bloomsday road race, I was a guest and enamored with the action at the 2017 Washington State Pipe Trades Apprenticeship Contest. The Spokane Plumbers and Steamfitters, UA Local 44 hosted top pipe trades apprentices from around the state for what was more than just precision pipe fitting. It was “The Real Apprentice.”
Whereas the “reality” of the former television show rewarded backstabbing, bullying and braggadocio in the boardroom, “The Real Apprentice,” although an individual competition, is built upon and emboldens the bonds of brotherhood. Sisterhood, too. Simply showing sincere interest in their efforts was enough for many of these union members to welcome me, like a brother.
Both a long-retired member serving as a competition proctor and a first-year apprentice will tell you, that while they enjoy busting each other’s chops…
Q: “What’s the difference between God and a welder?”
A: “God doesn’t call himself a welder.”
“Yesterday I couldn’t spell ‘pipe fitter.’ Now I are one.”
“IBEW stands for ‘I block every walkway’.” (That one’s for you, Bob Guenther!)
…they share a deep-running respect for their crafts and each other that is built upon hundreds of years of handing down and paying forward their skills.
Further, I have never met a union member who told me that she or he did it all alone. That’s probably why my union friends are always the first in line to lend a hand. That, and they hate undoing what I’ve typically done.
While Journeyman status may be a finish line for the apprenticeship, the program journey itself provides the most dedicated craftsmen and women highly-specialized skills that will last a lifetime — and stories and friends along the way.
I’m more than a little jealous of this noble journey.
Jim Hedemark is a public affairs consultant who lives in Spokane.