Volume 34, Number 9,  September 1999

 

IS ANYONE OUT THERE?

Contract Glazing Companies Scream for Qualified Glaziers,
But There Aren’t Many Out There To Answer the Call

by Tara Taffera

“If I could get my labor force straightened out, I could run through the rest of the work,” said Joseph Colandreo, president of Seneca Glass Co. Inc. in Rockville, MD. “But with employees, every day it is a different problem.” Whether it’s a glazier not showing up for work, or the lack of qualified people in the business, finding competent glaziers is a difficulty with which virtually all contract glazing companies deal. In fact, when USGlass surveyed approximately 6,000 contract glaziers in March (see April 1999 USGlass, page 44), the industry said, “finding qualified employees” is its top problem.
So, short of stealing the best glaziers from competitors, what are contract glaziers doing to combat this issue? While many hire employees without any industry experience, others turn to related fields to find help. One man said he was forced to join the union because it continuously stole his qualified employees. But, for glazing contractors already in the union, there may be a large pool of people to draw from.

Hiring
While some non-union glaziers say it takes three to six months to fill a position, Sal Maffessoli, owner of Sal’s Glass in East Hartford, CT, says after advertising in the local classifieds, he fills a position in one week with a qualified glazier. While this record is impressive, conversations with other glazing contractors, who all lamented over the lack of skilled glaziers, prove Sal’s Glass is not the norm. Just look at Tom Reed, owner of San Lorenzo Glass in San Lorenzo, CA. He put an ad in the paper six weeks in a row and only received three responses—none of them good prospects.
With contract glaziers fighting to find trained employees, John Heinaman, president of Heinaman Contract Glazing in Las Vegas and Lake Forest, CA, said some shop owners who lack ethical standards, steal highly-trained people from other shops. And, these aren’t the only ones stealing employees. According to Heinaman, unions steal qualified glaziers from existing shops and get them to join the union. “That’s a real threat,” said Heinaman. It was so much of a threat that two months ago Heinaman Contract Glazing, previously a non-union shop, turned union. “The union was taking our employees,” said Heinaman. “I just couldn’t let that happen anymore.”
Other contract glazing owners, such as Howard Tanner, president of Patriot Glass & Mirror in Schenectady, NY, a non-union shop, look for people with a carpentry background because qualified glaziers aren’t available. “There are more carpenters out there looking for jobs than glaziers,” said Tanner. “And this industry is easy for them to learn.”

Training
In union shops it is a different story. Often, these businesses hire employees without industry experience, then train them through its apprenticeship program. Andor Schiller, senior project manager for Giroux Glass Inc., in Los Angeles, said, “Out of every ten employees we bring in, six work out.”
When trying to determine what constitutes a qualified glazier, it became apparent that it is difficult to discuss the subject without making comparisons between union and non-union shops and the training each receives.
While non-union shops rely mostly on field training, unions offer field education, along with classroom instruction. Training consists of a three-year apprenticeship program, which is run by the International Brotherhood of Painters and Allied Trades. Employees attend school two nights per week, while working full-time as glaziers.
The classroom instruction covers topics such as how to read a blueprint, how to set glass, how to choose the proper drill bit, how to set up scaffolding and proper caulking techniques. Students are also briefed on current OSHA standards. Many union glaziers, such as Schiller, cite the high quality of the safety training students receive. “We’re very proud of our safety record,” he said. “Non-union workers are less expensive but you have to spend more time managing these people. It [safety training] makes you feel confident that your glaziers will understand how to do things. When they don’t receive this training, you take a big chance.”
While many say the classroom training is valuable, representatives from union shops admit, “The program leaves a lot to be desired.” For example, Bob Dyer, president of Youngstown Mirror and Glass, in Youngstown, OH, said that in his area the material is old and needs to be updated. Additionally, there is no instructor, so students must take correspondence courses. “My experience has been that, on a national level, if you have a formal classroom setting, the training is much better,” said Dyer. Colandreo is unhappy with his area program as well, but said he received assurances that training will be revamped in the coming months.
Despite its deficiencies, union glazing contractors believe the classroom instruction is valuable. “I believe in education,” said Dyer. “I do agree that the union side is better trained because they have to serve in the apprenticeship program.”
Others, specifically those on the non-union side, aren’t so sure. When asked about the classroom training for glaziers, Reed said, “It is not acceptable. It’s one thing to see something written on a blackboard and another to see it done. On-the-job training is by far the best way to go,” he said. “This has a greater impact than the classroom.”
At Patriot Glass, Tanner said new employees go out in the field with the veteran employees to observe and be exposed to the basic fundamentals of the business. “The guy that just wants to sit there is a problem. But the guy who asks, ‘How do you do that?’ or who already has the drill in his hand is a sign of a good employee.

The Hiring Pool
While many cite the training program as a great benefit to union contractors, other advantages, such as the large pool of people to choose from, were cited as well. Additionally, union shops can hire glaziers at a busy time, lay them off, then hire them again when business increases. “If a non-union shop lays someone off, he’ll probably never get them back when things pick up again,” said Colandreo.
Tanner admits this is one reason why he would consider making the union switch. “I always entertained the idea that I would join the union so I could hire 15 guys for a big job then send them back when the work was done.” But, some such as Heinaman say these “good men” aren’t always available. “The market is so busy today that the people sitting in union shops are usually the ones who have had problems in the past,” he said. Tanner admits this is a point that would prevent him from making the change. In fact, he joined the union two years ago, but no workers were ever available. “I realized that I got myself into something that I didn’t want to be in,” said Tanner. The union came back to Tanner recently and told him they were going to start an apprenticeship program in his area. “I’m not signing until they have bodies,” said Tanner. “When I call them and say, I want ten men, you better give me ten good men.”
With the struggle to find able-bodied individuals, have other non-union shops considered making the switch? “No,” said Reed. “I don’t agree with the ideological ways. No one will tell me to pay a certain amount per hour. And, you have to wait at least one year before you see a return on your investment.”

Benefits and Compensation
That “certain amount per hour” is often much more than non-union wages. Additionally, unions often offer great benefits such as medical, dental, vision, as well as a pension and 401K plan, while many non-union shops say they don’t offer these benefits.
Some glazing contractors say they don’t like the set-pay structure offered by the union (journeyman glaziers are paid the same wage regardless of their knowledge). “This is one of the things I always objected to,” said Heinaman. “With non-union workers you have the luxury of having six to seven different levels of pay.” Some argue that union workers don’t work as hard as their non-union counterparts and some attribute this to the set wage they receive. “They know they’re getting a good wage—no matter what kind of work they do,” said Tanner.

Conclusion
Although there may be some debate over union vs. non-union principles, many non-union groups recognize the classroom training aspect as a definite plus. For example, the Connecticut General Assembly recently passed the Glaziers Licensing Act of 1999 (see article page 54) which will mandate that glaziers work for three years as an apprentice. The glazier would then take a licensing test and, if he passes, would become a licensed glazier. If this occurred, in a few years, the industry could be analyzing these licensing programs in an attempt to define: what constitutes a qualified glazier; and how can the industry insure there are more of them? As this occurs, and when programs such as the Connecticut Glazier Licensing Act, and possibly others like it, evolve, USGlass will continue to cover this important issue facing contract glaziers.

Tara Taffera is the editor of USGlass magazine.


USG

Copyright 1999 Key Communications, Inc. All rights reserved. No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.