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A Major Difference Between Union and Non-Union Crews: Training

Union contractors train, test and verify their workers. Nobody knows what the non-union contractors do.


Concrete workers from New York City unions have completed long apprenticeships and maintain annual training regimens to remain certified to do their jobs. New York City deserves the best. Most non-union contractors have no clearly stated training or worker requirements.

Sharwin Edwards and Anthony Smiling had just graduated from their apprenticeships at the LiUNA training center for local unions 6A, 18A, and 20. Having completed their 4,300-hour training programs, the two became licensed union journeymen laborers.


Their apprenticeships included 4,000 work hours and 300 hours in the classroom. They learned construction practices and procedures. They got certified in crane signaling and rigging. They studied New York and OSHA safety standards. They shadowed seasoned union men and women on job-sites.


The unions these men were working to join, locals 6A and 18A, required that they complete all of this training before they could become a journeyworker. It was a long slog and not every apprentice made it to the end.


At the graduation ceremony, the center’s Training Director, Paul Primiano told the gathered group, “If you look around, a lot of people [you started the program with] are not here. They didn’t have what it takes to be a concrete worker. It’s not for the faint of heart. This is a very tough industry/trade you chose to be in, and you made it.”

"It's not for the faint of heart. This is a very tough industry/trade you chose to be in, and you made it."

Paul Primiano

Training Director,

LiUNA Training Center, Astoria


Sharwin Edwards (left), now a certified member of local union 6A, and Anthony Smiling (right) of local 18A show off the certificates they earned at the completion of their apprenticeship programs.

New grad Smiling said, “The training we get here [at the LiUNA Training Center] makes all the difference. It really does. Because you go out on these jobs — and these are potentially very dangerous places. High, high up. Large machines and heavy materials all around. You have to be ready for that. You have to know what to do, how to be safe and to be productive. And what we learn here, they make us ready for that. One hundred percent.”


And as training continues throughout each tradesperson’s membership, the training center remains an important element of their careers. Mr. Primiano said, “New York City is a very safe and regulated city to work in. [Union members] come back [to the training center] to keep their New York City DOB [Department of Building] certification active. Or to learn new skills or brush up on old ones.”


Members also return to the center to satisfy New York local law 196, which requires a minimum of 40 hours per year of safety training for every licensed construction worker.


And all of this training is arranged for the members, who contribute to it through their union dues, but who do not need to lay out money separately for it. They just have to show up and learn. This is a major difference between union and non-union work crews.


Non-union contractors often send their workers to licensed training centers to get their safety certifications. But the worker is usually expected to pay for it. Meanwhile, several of those centers have been accused of selling safety training certificates without holding the courses. Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg announced in December that his office is investigating these “training centers.”


The graduating cement and concrete apprentices of 2022 and their trainers. 

Mr. Edwards, who spent years in non-union construction companies before beginning his union apprenticeship, was asked whether the non-union contractors he worked for offered free training, and he said, “Um, no.” He was asked whether they encouraged safety training. He said, “No.”


Before working his way into local 18A, Mr. Smiling had also spent years working for non-union contractors. He was asked if those non-union employers required any training certificates from him before he was hired, and he said, “No. They just put me to work.” But how did they know what sort of training he had received, he was asked, and he said, “I have not one single idea, and I bet they don’t either.”


A serious devotion to training, at the beginning of a career and throughout it, is what makes New York City construction unions the best builders in the world. Meanwhile, for many non-union crews, nobody really knows what the training standard is, or if there is one.


If you’re shopping for New York City real estate, ask if the building you’re looking at was built by unions or by non-unions. The answer makes a big difference.

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