Founded in 1890, The United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipefitting Industry of the United States and Canada—otherwise known as UA—is Canada’s oldest United Association Union. For over 130 years, UA members have been serving their communities providing excellence in plumbing, welding and steam fitting.
Based in Winnipeg, Manitoba, UA Local 254 has been an integral part of the City’s growth. Its members have helped build Winnipeg’s hospitals, schools, office buildings, and commercial institutions, and recently opened one of the most state-of-the-art training facilities and apprenticeship training programs in Canada.
Fittingly, on the official opening, there was a pipe-cutting ceremony—in lieu of a ribbon—to mark the occasion. Located on 20 Dunlop Avenue, the 31,000 sq. foot Union Hall and Training Centre sits on seven acres, and includes a 1,000-gallon recycled-water sprinkler demonstration room and the cleanest weld shop in Western Canada.
The Union Hall and Training Centre has been a labour of love for Steve J. Ducharme, Executive Director/President & Quality Manager. “Now that we’ve been in our new facility for the past six months, it’s been amazing. It’s something that I’ve put my heart and soul into for the past thirteen years, something we’ve worked hard to get for our members.”
“My colleagues and I cut a copper pipe to welcome everybody to the building,” says Ducharme. “It was a momentous day and even though we had a massive blizzard that day, it was a great event.”
UA Local 254’s 1,400 members service commercial and industrial mechanical needs from plumbing, steamfitting, sprinkler fitting, refrigeration and welding. Members have maintained the plumbing and fire protection systems of the institutions, buildings, and industries that keep Winnipeg up and running. UA Local 254’s strong training and certification program keeps all members up-to-date with legislation and regulation as well as keep the end-users, the client and homeowner’s, safe.
Ducharme says that even though UA’s national, provincial, and municipal standards are as high as they are, “they can always be better”, which is the sign of someone who truly cares about safety. “They can always be tighter,” says Ducharme. “Especially with COVID. We had to adapt to that, and we didn’t experience any kind of slow down during the pandemic. Everything stayed operational because we have two hospitals that have to stay running.”
Adapting meant UA Local 254 members, during the height of uncertainty, were not only working, but working in unprecedented circumstances. UA Local 254 members pivoted to remote deliveries, and adopted new and stringent sanitization standards.
“It’s important for our members to maintain operations because even if something like COVID comes up, people still need clean, safe water,” says Ducharme.
“We were able to maintain a service to our clients and our end-users which was a massive undertaking. Not everybody was able to do that, but we were.”
In the Local’s new Union Hall and Training Centre, one to five-year programs. “We also do well testing for the province of Manitoba every two years,” says Ducharme. “UA Local 254 does that for the province of all the contractors to keep them licensed so they can look after the water utility and backflow prevention.”
The Union Hall and Training Centre will surely attract new members and interest young men and women who are considering a career with UA Local 254. The new Centre will offer members the best hands-on training on offer.
“We bring in educators and administrators from local schools and they have no problem preaching about how good our training center is, and what we can do in our capabilities,” says Ducharme. “I find a lot of people who want to get into trades also want hands-on training. When they come here, they actually see how state-of-the-art this building is. When they come here and actually see the wet room or see the recycling systems that we’re using, they’re blown away.”
Ducharme is happy that part of his legacy to the next generation of UA Local 254 members (which includes his son and son-in-law) is this Centre. “254 has grown from a small office to a brand new, state-of-the-art facility with many low environmental impact processes. We have the capabilities to grow and lead the pipe trades industry here in Manitoba.”
“[With this building] We will continue to meet the needs of Manitobans, and pipe trades professionals’ educational needs. We also do deliver Indigenous plumbing and pipe trades education,” says Ducharme. “We will continue to certify and license our members to meet the needs of Manitoba.”