A pipefitter union is an organization which represents pipefitters in negotiations with employers. While pipefitters do not need to belong to the union in order to work, they can obtain more protections and benefits by joining a local branch of a pipefitter union. They may also be able to access employment in union workplaces which might not otherwise be available. One notable example of a pipefitter union is the United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters, established in 1889 and covering the United States and Canada.
Pipefitters do a wide variety of work involving the laying and maintenance of pipe and related appliances. Pipefitters undergo extensive training in order to work, including apprenticeship under experienced professionals, and they can choose various areas of their field to focus on. Unlike plumbers, pipe fitters tend to work in complex commercial plumbing tasks such as plumbing chemical plants rather than in residential plumbing.
Like other organized labor organizations, a pipefitter union protects and advocates for its members. Individual members have access to union benefits such as special rates on savings vehicles which they can use to save for retirement, access to low-cost health insurance, union benefits in the event of an injury, and the opportunity to take continuing education classes through the union. Unions also hold conferences which give members a chance to network with each other and to explore new job possibilities.
The pipefitter union also advocates for its members in the halls of government. Union officials encourage the passage of laws which will increase safety for union members and improve overall standards in the industry, and they also promote laws which will protect union members financially and legally, such as changes to contract law which will protect the interest of pipefitters or minimum wage laws which eliminate loopholes. Many non-union members benefit from the lobbying efforts of unions because the laws which unions push for span the industry as a whole, not just union members and union work sites.
When a pipefitter has a dispute with an employer or when a group of pipefitters wants to negotiate the terms of an employment contract or settlement, the pipefitter union steps in to assist. Collective bargaining, the process in which unions advocate for their members at the negotiation table, tends to generate stronger agreements than bargaining attempts carried out independently, because the union represents a group and it can have a great deal of clout.
To join a union, someone must usually pay union dues, typically to a union local, which covers a specific area where union members work. He or she may also have to show professional qualifications, with some unions enforcing very high performance standards which are designed to encourage employers to use union labor.