What is a Plumber Union?

Jessica Hobby

A union is an organized group of employees who pay dues to collectively bargain with their employer. A plumber union is a specific type of trade union for plumbers. Plumbers’ unions offer training and other benefits to employees who join their group. Employees at union companies are required to join the union to gain employment.

Some companies require all plumbers to join the union before hiring.
Some companies require all plumbers to join the union before hiring.

The national plumbers union in the United States is the United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters (UA). In order to join the UA without any experience, a prospective member must enter a five-year apprenticeship. After hundreds of hours of classroom instruction and thousands of hours of hands-on experience, an apprentice plumber becomes a journeyman. Throughout their careers, journeyman plumbers who belong to a plumber union will need to continue their education to maintain their licenses.

Plumber unions often run apprenticeship and training programs.
Plumber unions often run apprenticeship and training programs.

In addition to offering training to its members, the union offers a number of other benefits. Members of the UA receive medical, dental and vision benefits from their employers. Their family members also receive these benefits. Additionally, the UA offers member assistance programs for people dealing with abuse, anger, depression, alcoholism and a host of other things. Members of the UA plumber union also receive some sort of retirement or pension program.

The plumbers’ union negotiates these benefits with the companies that employ their union members. These benefits are a contractual obligation agreed to by both the company and the union. Additionally, pay is also negotiated in the terms of a contract, which lasts approximately three to five years. In the event that the plumber union and a particular company cannot come to an agreement on the contract, the union may vote to strike. As of the 1980s, strikes are not as effective as they once were because U.S. President Ronald Reagan gave companies the right to hire non-union workers to replace workers on strike.

Other benefits enjoyed by a member of a plumber union are intangible. A union offers plumbers a vehicle to address issues in the workplace without being penalized. If a company doesn’t pay a plumber the correct amount, breaches the contract between the company and the union or wrongfully terminates an employee, he may file a grievance with the plumber union. The union will work with the employer to resolve the issue.

In the 20th century, unions have become politically motivated organizations. Trade unions, including the UA, have contributed millions of dollars to political campaigns over the years. This practice has become controversial because not all union members wish to have their dues spent on campaign contributions. Unless a member signs a waiver wishing that their dues not be used for political purposes, a good portion of their dues will be spent helping to elect union-friendly legislators and presidents.

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