BATTLE CREEK - There's nearly constant ongoing maintenance and renovation work at the sprawling, 200-acre campus of the Veterans Administration Medical Center.
In recent months the building trades have turned their attention to expanding Building 39, and renovating its mechanical systems. It’s a 1930s-era structure that’s used for inpatient mental health patients.
And in that VA Hospital setting, a group of pipe trades workers who are also military veterans are being employed on the project.
“We at Local 333 made a conscious effort to bring a number of military veterans onto the project,” said Plumbers and Pipe Fitters Local 333 Business Agent Joe Michilizzi. “The VA proactively seeks veterans to man their projects, and we thought it would be appropriate to work within our local union’s hiring rules to try to get veterans employed on the project. It has worked out well.”
Eight military veterans have been employed as pipe trades workers on the project over the past several months. Employed by Mall City Mechanical on Building 39, the crew is among other building trades workers installing heating and cooling systems on the project. Building 39 has about 36,000 square feet on three levels.
The Department of Veterans Affairs sought the Detroit District U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ involvement in the Battle Creek project, with the Corps providing services such as planning, design, construction, contract procurement and project management.
“We’re doing well, it’s been a very good job,” said Local 333 Foreman Marty Preston. “The Army Corps of Engineers and the VA have been great to work with.” Mall City Mechanical workers are employed at four sites at the VA Hospital, which is comprised of scores of buildings, many of them pre-dating World War II.
Work on the $7.4 million Building 39 project project began in October 2012 and is expected to wrap up in September . “We are pleased to do our part to help ensure quality medical facilities for the care of veterans – men and women who have sacrificed to serve our country and deserve nothing less,” said Lt. Col. Robert Ells, district engineer for the Army Corps.
To help military veterans all over the country get a leg up on establishing a career in the pipe trades, United Association of Plumbers and Pipe Fitters, UA President William Hite started the Veterans in Piping (VIP) program. It offers high-quality skills training and jobs in the pipe trades to US veterans and active duty military personnel preparing to leave the service.
Hite said the VIP program addresses two important issues:
1. A growing shortage in the construction industry of skilled workers due to the combined effects of an aging workforce, increased demand, and lack of skills training for youth; and
2. An exceedingly high unemployment rate for US veterans, despite their being a disciplined and highly trainable population.
“Military and government officials have lauded VIP as a model in workforce development,” Hite said.
Participants enroll in accelerated 18-week courses in welding and/or HVACR service, both fields experiencing an increased demand for skilled workers. They also earn industry-recognized certifications as a part of their education. Upon graduation, VIPs gain direct entry into UA apprenticeship, leading to lifelong career opportunities. All training is paid for entirely by the UA and its industry partners at no cost to participants.
The tradesmen at the Battle Creek VA aren’t connected with the VIP program, but the project is employing veterans just the same.
“Beaver” Williams, an Air Force veteran and mechanic who worked on B-52s and AC 130 gunships during his time in the military, is now making a living as a Local 333 mechanic employed by Mall City Mechanical at the Battle Creek VA. He said working on the project makes it more meaningful than a typical job. “A lot of these veterans didn’t get a fair shake in this country, and a lot of them gave up something – that’s why they’re here,” he said. “So, it’s good if we can make it a little better for them.”
A GROUP OF MILITARY veterans from the pipe trades are working on upgrading the Battle Creek Veterans Administration Hospital complex. They include (l-r) Beaver Williams (Air Force, aircraft mechanic), Jeff “Goon” Kiss (Air Force, Desert Storm/Desert Shield), Brandon Maksimchuck (Army, Iraqi Freedom) and Adam Hatfield (Marines, Iraq). All are employed by Mall City Mechanical, working on the VA’s Building No. 39.
CUTTING PIPE INSULATION at Building No. 39 of the Battle Creek VA Hospital is Jeff TerBerg of Heat and Frost Insulators Local 47. He’s employed by Mechanical Industrial Insulation.
LOOKING OVER DUCTWORK blueprints at the Battle Creek VA Hospital Building No. 39 is Jeff Tysen of Sheet Metal Workers Local 7. He’s employed by Mall City Mechanical.