Steamfitter encourages workers to join union

Jefferson Williams on the job.
Photo by Jason Speakman

Working with the strength of a team will always have its benefits. For first generation Jamaican American, Jefferson Williams, this “team” comes in the form of the New York City Steamfitter Local 638.

A third-generation steamfitter, Williams is the first of his family to join the union. According to Williams, “It’s not so much the money but it’s the security, the pension, the medical coverage, and learning safety measures that are required when working on dangerous jobs.”

Like his father and grandfather, Williams gravitated towards the trade which is responsible for installing fire sprinklers, heating and cooling systems, and more into many buildings and high rises across the city. He has spent time working on the Barclay Center and since taking on the trade has remained a vocal member to those who are not unionized to join.

“Being that I was non-union, I know the exploitation that came with it. I was very vocal on organizing because I’ve been there. Equality is a big thing when working in non-union jobs. Some workers actually lost their lives and being that they don’t have papers, people left them to die,” he said.

Understanding the effects of being without a union — Williams once suffered a broken arm injury on the job and after applying for unemployment was subsequently let go — and that stands as his motivation to continue advocating for steamfitters like himself.

“I got robbed for years working on prevailing wage jobs and never got the prevailing wage. It’s not fair. I just hate for someone else to go through what I went through or what my father went through or what my grandfather went through,” he said.

Now, Williams has a greater ability to create the change he would like to see as one of several officers on the Financial Committee.

A major component on his list is to see that diversity in the Local 638 is always kept balanced.

“Our last graduation class was made up of 60 percent minorities and with me being the first Caribbean American elected to the finance committee I think it’s a step in the right direction,” he said.

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