Union Stickers Show the Love
Decorated hard hats illustrate the big differences between union and non-union labor
An ironworker from New York local 46 displays his union pride on his hard hat.
One way to tell whether a New York City construction worker is a member of a union or not is to look at their hard hat. Do you see an array of stickers up there? Then chances are that person is a proud member of a union.
The stickers proliferate on union helmets for two main reasons that explain a much deeper difference between union and non-union labor.
No Training = No Stickers
The first reason for the stickers is an acknowledgement of training completed. All New York City construction sites require that workers be trained in occupational health and safety standards. As we’ve highlighted many times on Union-Built Matters, unions place safety training above all else as they prepare men and women for a difficult and many times dangerous trade.
Stickers proliferate on union helmets for two main reasons; to show experience and to express pride.
Unions also take pains to train their members in the details of licensable work functions, such as the use of specific equipment or the execution of specific tasks. Crane operation and welding are two examples of training that many union members will receive and be licensed for.
The training facilities will often provide the men and women who complete their courses with a quick-to-identify sticker that will show that the worker is licensed/capable in certain areas, a sort of badge of accomplishment.
Anthony Smiling is a newly minted union journeyman for cement and concrete workers local 18A. He completed a rigorous 4,000-hour apprenticeship and 300 hours of classroom study after which he received membership, a diploma, a hat, and a sticker, which he said he’d put on his helmet as soon as he got home. “The training we get makes all the difference. It really does. Because you go out on these jobs — and these are potentially very dangerous places. High, high up. Large machines and heavy materials all around.” He continued, “what we learn here, they make us ready for that. One hundred percent.”
Electricians union IBEW Local 3
Steam Fitters union Local 638
Union-Built Matters has also highlighted that for many non-union companies, there are no equal training or licensing standards. Before he committed to the union apprenticeship Mr. Smiling had worked for years in non-union shops. He said he saw no training requirements on non-union jobs. “They just put me to work. They didn’t ask me about my training, if I knew how to operate this or how to do that. They just said ‘do it!’”
For men like Smiling, the union sticker reveals something important: capability.
And for the purposes of this article, no training = no sticker.
It’s About Pride
The second and perhaps most important reason union members put stickers on their helmets is pride. Most every union member displays their local union’s name and number on their hard hat. Laborer Smiling, with the Local 18A logo on his helmet, said “It’s a sense of pride, yes. Me and these other guys we've all been through the same training. It was tough, let me tell you, and we all made it through — and not everybody did. Now we’re working together on these big jobs. Some of these guys I consider them like brothers to me. So I'm proud to show these numbers.”
Stickers are often also designed for big, special projects, like the construction of the Freedom Tower after 9/11. Just as a passport stamp is proof of places visited, hard hat stickers represent projects and construction sites worked. Workers wear those stickers to show where they’ve been and what they’ve accomplished.
If you’re looking for real estate in New York City, look at the locations that have been built with pride by the best in the business. Look at union-built buildings.
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