Joining the HVAC union offers men and women working as HVACR technicians with the chance to earn excellent wages and benefits. In fact, union members get better benefits than most non-union employees working in any industry.
Here’s an introduction to the benefits HVACR service technicians receive as members of the local union, and the process of joining the union.
Your NYC Refrigeration & HVAC union: UA Steamfitters Local 638
Steamfitters Local 638 is the New York City branch of UA, the union that represents HVACR industry workers. The local chapter’s jurisdiction includes the five boroughs of New York City and Long Island.
“Steamfitter” is a term for people who work with mechanical piping systems, including HVAC and Refrigeration systems. In addition to HVACR service technicians, the Local 638 also represents pipefitters and fire sprinkler technicians.
The purpose of the union is threefold:
- Work with contractor representatives to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement that standardizes wages, benefits, and working conditions for union workers.
- Advocate for union workers in disputes with employers (such as wrongful termination or improper overtime pay).
- Work with contractors to provide training resources that keep members up to date on new technology and safe working practices.
Benefits of union membership for HVAC & Refrigeration service technicians
Under the current collective bargaining agreement (which remains in effect through June 2023), HVACR service technicians who are members of Local 638 get the following pay and benefits:
Wages & overtime
You’ll make $15.55 per hour when you start working as an HVACR service technician and join the union. After only 6 months, you’ll make $21.23 per hour. After one year, your pay rate jumps to $25.63. The rate goes up every year until you become a journeyman making $43.85 per hour.
The contract also allows for increases to these published wage rates each January and July.
For details, see the UA Local 638 Metal Trades Wage Rate Notice (click on the link for the current period).
Overtime pay (for time after the regular work hours and on Saturdays) is time and a half. Work on Sundays is paid at double time.
If you spent time on call for emergency work, the minimum pay is $125 per week.
The regular work week for union HVACR technicians is five 8 hour days, from Monday through Friday, from 8:00am to 5:00pm, with an hour break for lunch. Employers and employees can agree to shift the 8 hour day earlier or later, or to work four 10-hour days (with an hour for lunch) between the hours of 7:00am and 7:00pm.
A new HVACR service technician becomes eligible for medical benefits for their family (including dental, vision and life insurance) after 2 months of full time work. After that, 100 hours of work per month is required to maintain eligibility. The plan’s premiums are fully funded by employer contributions.
Refrigeration & HVAC union contractors pay into a pension fund for retired union workers. HVAC union service technicians who have been working in the industry for 15 years can retire at age 62 and receive a full pension.
Though the specific benefits can vary for each HVACR technician, most careers in the union HVACR industry can lead to a pension benefit of $200 per month for each year of employment. In other words, a technician working full time for 30 years, can expect a pension of approximately $6,000 a month in retirement.
UA Local 638 provides a contractor-sponsored 3-year HVAC technician training program, plus a new New York State approved 4-year HVAC technician apprenticeship training program. Your employer may elect to enroll you in one of these programs to begin your education in HVAC & Refrigeration service.
Even if you don’t get your initial training from the training program (if your employer has their own training program, or if you attended another technical training school), you can take advantage of ongoing training classes for union technicians. Classes are offered on a variety of topics related to new technology, “green” service techniques and materials, new tools, and safety practices.
Paid time off
HVACR service work is challenging, but you’ll earn quite a bit of paid time off:
- 10 paid holidays and 1 floating holiday
- 1 week vacation after 6 months with the same employer, up to 4 week vacation after 25 years with the same employer
- 3 to 5 days of sick leave (depending on your years of service with the same employer)
- Bereavement pay for a death in the immediate family
- 5 days of jury duty pay (after 5 years of service with the same employer)
Joining the HVAC union: what to expect
When you get hired by a union contractor for an entry-level position as an HVAC/Refrigeration service technician apprentice or “helper,” your employer must refer you for union membership within 45 days. Your employer starts the process by sending a letter to the Local 638 office.
After the union receives that letter, they will contact you and let you know when to come in to complete your union enrollment (there’s often a sign up date once per month). On that day, you’ll go to the Local 638 office in Long Island City and complete paperwork.
That’s it! After that, all you need to do is pay union dues. You can choose to have the dues deducted from your paycheck, or pay the dues yourself online at the Local 638 website.
Sound good? Get your career started now: apply for jobs with NYC union contractors.
Thanks to Local 638 for providing the details for this article.