How to join a welding union: Becoming A Union Welder

An aspiring welder who wants to take this as a profession for life has two options- either to join a union or work by themselves. If you decide to join a union, then the next obvious question is- “how to join a welding union?”. I’ll answer that question for you.

To join a welding union, you must have an AWS certificate. After you receive one, you have to go through local unions and choose one that interests you the most. Afterward you have to apply for membership. When that is approved, you’ll become a full-fledged union member.

But before joining you must thoroughly study about it to ensure you’re making the right decision. I’ve packed some stuff for you to give you a head start, scroll down and see:

How do you join the Union?

Not everyone can just stand up and demand to join a union. There are some procedures that you need to follow. The first thing that you need is certification.

You must obtain a welder’s certificate from American Welding Society [AWS] if you hope to join a welding union. There are testing facilities in most states, but you can comfortably apply for it via online too!

When you obtain your certification, you have to look for a proper union. There are a lot of unions out there, and each has different demands and benefits. It is up to you to filter through all of them and find the one best for you.

I’ll advise you to look at the membership fee and the terms as well to see if you tick all the boxes.

Different unions [e.g. ironworkers, pipefitters or boilermakers union] specialize in different duties. So, pick the one you are interested in the most.

When you’ve made up your mind, you only have to submit an application and pay the required fee.

Find the local representative of the respective union’s contact information, and they’ll help you with the rest of the paperwork.

Obviously, you can only join the union only if you’re eligible for it. When you get that part sorted, the rest is a cakewalk. So if you’re planning to get into a union, you need to pass the following standards:

Union welder requirements: How to become a union welder?

How to join a welding union: Becoming A Union Welder

To be a union welder, you need to have a certain level of mastery and education. These requirements are higher compared to starting out on your own. It is a competitive business, and the union wants to pick only the best members, so you have to be prepared.

First of all, you need to be a master at working with machines and tools; otherwise, you wouldn’t even be able to set foot in the workplace. Next up, you have to memorize every safety protocol as if they’re imprinted on your mind.

You’ll need to have a keen eye that can pick up any information, no matter how small it is. In most cases, welding will be a team job, so you must need to have proper communication and leadership skills.

These are just the start. You also need to be potent in planning, building, design, measurements, etc.

Your learning doesn’t stop here, but this is the bare minimum that you need if you plan to join a welding union.

I’m sure this might be overwhelming for an aspiring welder who is just starting out; but don’t be anxious; joining a trade school helps you get an advantage as they equip a trainee welder with the necessary preparations.

The theoretical and practical training you’ll receive in these schools will leave you with decent expertise in safety precautions, welding practices, metal preparation, equipment handling, welding symbols, work ethics, etc. These are indispensable experiences that you’ll need in the field.

Generally, welding courses last 3-6 months. And when you’re done with it, you should have a significantly higher understanding of this trade that will greatly assist you when applying for an AWS certificate.

Different kinds of welding unions

You have to make an important decision before joining a welding union, which is to pick the right kind of union for you. There are various types of welding unions that specialize in different fields:

Pipefitters excel at plumbing and are masters at welding pipes. From household to industry level pipes, they can fit them all.

Ironworkers‘ job is to deal with all kinds of construction and structural aspects of welding. These are the people you see at construction sites. They are the ones behind bridges, landmarks, commercial residences, vehicles, stadiums, etc.

Boilermakers are heavy-duty construction workers that specialize in manufacturing business. Every day they work with heavy metal structures that are imposed to high temperatures. Shipbuilding, railroads forging, and other related industries like mining employ such welders.

There are a few subclasses but these 3 are the primary welding unions. You need to pick the one that you like the best. Capability is another factor that should influence your decision.

I strongly suggest you think this over and over again before you come to a decision. Because, after joining a union, you’ll be only able to work under that division contractually.

If you know the responsibilities and designation of each union does, then it should help you make up your mind. I’ll describe what duties can you expect from each of these classes below:

Duties of a union welder

  1. Ironworkers

As I’ve said before, these guys concern themselves with all kinds of public and private structures.

From installing steel beams for bridges to placing supports for a large building, they’ll do it all. You probably got the hint already: be prepared to work at high elevations if you choose this job.

It’s a challenging field of work. Great balance, sharp senses, and high alertness are crucial traits for this job. Basically, you have to be like Spiderman without the webs.

You will also need to have excellent communication skills as you’ll be working on large sites as a team.

Commonly, Ironworkers get many commercial contracts, so meeting deadlines will also be a part of your life.

Since you’ll be working with machines out in the open instead of workshops, your dexterity must be great.

Job sectors for Ironworkers:

  • Machinery
  • Structural
  • Reinforcing
  • Ornamental
  • Demolition

Ironworker apprenticeship:

A journeyman ironworker typically has to go through a 3-4 year apprenticeship and has to spend 144 hours studying to enrich their theoretical knowledge.

The study material consists of mathematics, construction technique, measurements, safety protocols, and blueprint reading.

Plus, they also have to undergo practical training of 2000 hours per year of apprenticeship learning how to handle, weld, measure, cut, bend, construct different metals.

Apprenticeship requirements are:

  • Diploma [high school], GED, or anything equivalent
  • Physically fit
  • 18 years or older
  • Great balance and agility
  • Has to pass alcohol and drug tests
  • Meets the citizenship law requirements

Responsibilities of Ironworkers

  • Welding steel and iron structures
  • Fitting metals
  • Cut, bend, shear metals on the site
  • Assisting in demolition
  • Design and build components
  1. Pipefitters

Pipes are an essential component that we use in various scenarios such as heating and cooling systems, water transit, gas supply, ventilation, hydraulics, chemical flow, steam transmission.

Pipefitters have the pivotal job of making, cutting, fitting, and connecting pipes so that these tasks get finished without any complications.

Furthermore, they help in designing layouts for pipelines, hot water systems, high-pressure steam, low-pressure steam, refrigeration system, oil and fuel transition.

If you’re planning to be a pipefitter, you must have in-depth knowledge of residential or commercial installations. Pipefitters often find themselves working in an enclosed space or an elevated open space. You must be able to work on both comfortably.

Often you’ll find yourself subjected to extreme weather conditions.

A pipefitter who is affiliated with a union will be involved starting from planning to installation. There will be an array of welding, grinding, and leveling tools that you’ll have to work with if you choose this path.

You’d also need a sharp brain to analyze plans and follow the blueprints to a T.

  • Job sectors for Pipefitters
  • Heating
  • Cooling
  • Refrigeration
  • Papermill
  • Metal fabricating
  • Vehicle manufacture
  • Utility
  • Oil refinement

Pipefitter apprenticeship

An aspiring pipefitter has to undergo 4-5 years of apprenticeship where they’ll obtain 1700-2000 hours of on-the-job work experience including a 216-hour rigorous classroom components that’ll cover various necessary topics, including physics, maths, and chemistry.

Requirements for apprenticeship are as follows:

  • At Least 18 years old
  • High school diploma or GED
  • Drug and alcohol-free
  • Must have driver’s license

Responsibilities of Pipefitters

  • Taking accurate measurements
  • Marking pipes for cutting and welding
  • Designing and building structures
  • Planning pipe system blueprints
  • Maintenance of worn-out pipes
  1. Boilermakers

As the name suggests, boilermakers make and maintain metal boilers that contain fluids and gas, waiting to be heated up when necessary. This vessel is under high pressure that produces power, heat, or mechanical energy. This energy goes on to run various systems.

You’ll most commonly find boilers in shipbuilding, vehicle production, and machine manufacturing. They’re also seen generating power, extracting and transferring oil/gas.

So it’s easy to see that boilermakers need high technical skill and patience because these are the jobs for a steady hand.

Due to the nature of the job, boilermakers must be prepared to endure extreme heat and cold conditions and high altitudes, for example, 1000 feet from ground zero.

  • Job sectors for Boilermakers
  • Shipbuilding
  • Oil transmission
  • Liquid/gas flow
  • Fuel extraction
  • Vehicle manufacturing
  • Machinery
  • Power plants

Boilermaker apprenticeship

A boilermaker apprentice spends four years in training to enrich their theoretical knowledge and to hone their skills. They must undergo 576 hours in the classroom and 6000 hours on the field.

These are the criteria for an apprentice:

  • Minimum age: 18 years
  • Diploma in high school or G.E.D
  • Physically strong enough to handle extreme work conditions
  • Good understanding of chemicals and water

Responsibilities of Boilermaker

  • Making boilers
  • Welding various metal parts
  • Riveting and bolting different components
  • Constructing large tanks
  • Building blast furnaces
  • Making steam-driven turbine
  • Large pipe maintenance
  • Aligning and fitting a number of pieces
  • Interpreting blueprints

I’m sure you’ll have a good understanding of what you’re getting into after having an in-depth look.

Union welding vs Non-union welding

When you decide that you want to take up welding as a career, you have one important decision to make- should I join a welding union or not? It’s not only you- it is a hot debate that comes up every now and then in welding forums.

While some say it’s best to fly solo, others believe the benefits of joining a union are too tempting to miss out on. And both sides have legit reasons to think so. However, you must keep in mind that everyone isn’t gonna experience the same terrain.

It’s because people live in different regions, have varying experiences, and the scope of work is different. So it is hard to make a decision based on the opinion of someone you don’t even know.

But if you have to take any stranger’s word, why not take mine? From my research, I found out that joining welding union does indeed have perks that are worth joining it. Give a read below:

Benefits of joining a welding union

Higher pay

A union member will earn more than a welder who isn’t part of one. It’s a no-brainer, actually, as unions have well-established contacts with various hotshot companies and the government itself.

Unions have a large roster of welders to choose from to match the job description, and they can send the right people for the right kind of work and get it done efficiently. This is what makes them reliable.

And that’s why they can charge a premium amount for their services which the clients often agree on.

Job security

A competent union will fight for its workers. It’s not just about better payment; they also do their utmost to ensure their workers get healthcare benefits, retirement funds, and other benefits.

In short, you get better job security if you join a union.

Workers who aren’t affiliated with a union don’t have many cards to play in negotiations and often agree on poor deals just so that they don’t let the work go to someone else.

Also, a “freelance” welder can’t do much in case of a dismissal. But a union member is protected if the dismissal is uncorroborated since the union demands proof of incompetence, violation, etc.

A union also acts as the middle man between the employers and the welder in case of a dispute and can often solve it.

Safer work environment

Welding unions put pressure on their clients to ensure that their workplace is abiding by all the necessary safety protocols so that the workers have the minimum risk of injury.

The union shall be held accountable if something unfortunate happens, whereas a solo welder has nothing but their luck to curse.

So, these were the chief reasons I believe joining a welding union is better for someone seeking to make a livelihood by welding.

But it’s not all gumdrops and ice cream, a union member has their own headaches too. I’ve touched that part as well, you just have to scroll a little bit more:

Cons of welding unions

Joining a union is like entering a company. Sometimes you have to do what you’re told and partake in projects that you didn’t want to be a part of.

And one might feel they’re overperforming compared to the rest of the team but still getting paid the standard amount that everyone else is getting, making that person feel like they’re carrying the whole group while the rest are slacking off.

In such situations, welders believe it would have been better if they were alone from the beginning as they could take all the profit for themselves.

Also, seniority is a norm inside a union. It might seem lovely that the welders show respect to the people who’ve dedicated their lives to the craft, but sometimes the best work gets allotted to the most senior welders, not giving the young gun a chance to showcase their expertise.

This is why some welders might think that such culture is holding back their growth.

If I had to say what’s the biggest drawback of joining a union, it’d be the lack of freedom. You only get to pick the work that is available through the union. For example, if you join a pipefitters’ union, naturally, you’d only get jobs of that discipline.

Here, a free agent has the independence to choose whatever kind of work they like. There are some people who’d settle for a lesser pay if they can live the way they want.

These are the few reasons why people could opt out from joining a union. Even so,  I’d still suggest joining a union; the benefits greatly outweigh the shortcomings.

Related Topics

People who are interested in joining a welding union also have curiosity regarding some other related matters. So I thought I’ll include them here so you can get them all in one place.

Here are the most common queries:

How much do union welders make a year?

The average union welder in the US makes $43,897 a year, which is around $21 every hour. Most of the welder’s salary is in the range of $32,000 to $49,500. The top earners among the welders [90th percentile] made $67,500.

All of this information is true as of February 2021.

Are there any local welding unions near me?

If you live in the US, the answer is- most probably. The majority of the big welding unions have set up regional offices in most states, so there is a high likelihood that you’ll find a welding union near you.

Do welders make a lot of money?

Just like any other trade, if you’re good enough, then you earn handsomely. But I’ll just skip the diplomacy and give it to you straight- yes, they can earn a lot.

It’s even possible to reach a six-figure sum a year if you’re an experienced welder who is willing to travel and aren’t afraid of working under adverse conditions.

For example, an underwater welder can earn anywhere up to 100k to 200k if they are good enough. That blew your mind, didn’t it? But I’m not bluffing, and it’s all true.

See it for yourself; you can learn all about underwater welding here.

And it’s not just them. Industrial welders and military support welders also reach the same threshold.

All in all, welding is a job with a diverse pay scale that depends on various factors like skill, experience, willingness to work under harsh conditions, open to traveling, etc. It’s a solid job, but the responsibility of making yourself a star solely lies with you.

How do I become a journeyman welder?

One obtains the title of a journeyman welder after their training is complete. The title, however, only applies to that specific industry.

You must be over 18 years old to become a journeyman welder. A college degree isn’t necessary; a high school diploma or G.E.D will do. However, you must complete the apprenticeship and have a state license; that’s the main requirement.

You also might need to pass a drug test, depending on your employer/union demand.

Join a union today!

The economy will only boom if there is an industry that works its feet off for it. Our world needs energy to survive, which is why welding is constantly needed. So, it’s not a job that’s gonna die off pretty soon.

From my point of view, it is a top choice for a career. This is why I wanted to give you instructions on how to join a welding union so you can get the best benefits out of it.

Last Updated on March 12, 2021 by Gary Hargrave