With Construction Rebounding, Sprinkler Fitters Seek New Apprentices

CHICAGO (CBS) — Hundreds of people hungry for good-paying jobs stood outside in the cold for hours in in southwest suburban Countryside on Tuesday in order to apply to become sprinkler-fitter apprentices.

Sprinkler Fitter Union Local 281 business manager Dennis Fleming said work is finally starting to pick up after the industry was hard-hit by the Great Recession.

“We were very busy for about 25 years. Once the recession hit, our last test was probably 2006. This is the first one in 11 years,” he said.

Now that business is picking up again, Fleming estimated at least 100 people who apply will get a chance to become apprentices.

“The economy drives everything with us, and if they’re not building buildings, then we’re slow,” he said.

According to the union’s website, they will accept 500 applications for apprenticeships.

Fleming said he was told some people showed up in the parking lot of the Coutryside Banquets & Conference Center around 10 p.m. Monday, and people started lining up at 4:45 a.m. Tuesday to start filling out applications at 8 a.m.

Juan Garcia waited in line for more than three hours Tuesday morning. He has been working in a big-box hardware store, and said he was looking for something better for his family.

“Better pay, exactly, yeah, and better benefits; that’s the main thing, because I got kids,” Garcia said.

Annie West waited in 23 degree temperatures for more than three hours to apply.

“I’m a producer right now in reality TV, and the traveling has been pretty intense, so I want something stable. I want to stay at home. I want roots,” she said.

Derrick Harper said he works in the fire systems industry, and wanted to take advantage of an opportunity by applying to become a sprinkler fitter apprentice.

“It’s definitely a good-paying job. I know a few guys that are fitters,” he said. “I had one tell me about them doing testing soon, and applying soon, so I had to take advantage of the opportunity.”

John Harris said his brother is a sprinkler fitter, and he wants to be able to provide for his family just as his brother does.

Fleming said pay for apprentices starts around $20 an hour. By the time apprentices achieve journeyman status five years later, the pay is around $47 an hour.

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