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Immigrant finds rewarding life in Boilermakers union

“Be whatever you want to be, but join the union. The union will help you get places you’ve never dreamed of. ” — Oscar Davila, BM-ST Local 92

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Oscar Davila, L-92’s president and acting business manager.

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Oscar Davila visits the state capitol in Sacramento with other members of L-92, lobbying for the passage of SB 54. From l. to r., Andrew Bernard, Davila, Ruben Canas and David Boice.

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Oscar Davila speaks at a rally in 2013 in support of Los Angeles Mayor Villaraigosa’s30/10 Initiative, an infrastructure and jobs plan.

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In 2006, Oscar Davila works as a foreman for Nooter Construction at the Valero Wilmington Refinery. Here he’s blinding a vessel for testing.

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Oscar Davila with his wife, Irma, and sons, l. to r., Oscar, Octavio and Omar.

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In 2003, Oscar Davila visits Aztec pyramids in Mexico City with his son, Oscar, and his parents Roberto and Juanita Davila.

Local 92’s Davila worked his first “job” at age 7

NINETEEN YEARS AGO — just four years after emigrating to the U.S. from Mexico — Oscar Davila was working a job to nowhere in the Los Angeles area when he heard about the Boilermakers from an unlikely source — an ironworker. That conversation changed the direction of his life. Since then, Davila, president and acting business manager of Los Angeles’ Local 92, has worked hard and smart, with both determination and ingenuity.

The work ethic that motivated Davila through 19 successful years in Local 92 began in Mexico, before he’d even turned 10. He started working for the family business in Guadalajara, Mexico, where his middle-class parents owned and operated a grocery store. On the weekends, they served up food in the family’s restaurant.

“The whole family worked together under the leadership of my parents,” Davila says. “I started working with them at the age of 7 as the errand boy. I mainly helped them clean and also helped around the store. I always enjoyed working with my parents.”

That ended when he turned 15 and moved to the U.S. on a student visa. He wasn’t keen on leaving Mexico, where he worked hard in school and in the family businesses and had a comfortable and happy life. But the Davilas wanted all six of their children to get a U.S. education and then return to Guadalajara. They believed that was the way to success. The family’s oldest son had already moved to the states to attend school, so Davila and his brother, Juan, joined him.

After six months into Davila’s high school education, he and Juan moved out of their older brother’s place to live on their own. Davila continued to attend high school while working full time at night and on the weekends in manufacturing and welding jobs.

“It was my main priority to have a job and take pride in my education,” Davila remembers.

Balancing work and studies sometimes forced him to skip school — the first two classes of the day — in order to catch some sleep. But he finally graduated and continued to work in California. Originally, he’d planned to move back to Mexico after graduation. But then he met Irma, now his wife, who derailed that plan. So at 20 he married his sweetheart and began studies to become a U.S. citizen. He became a naturalized citizen a year later.

Phone book points to Local 92

At 20, Davila worked in a shop that manufactured trailers. During that job he met an ironworker who boasted about his union to anyone who’d listen. The man also told Davila that on other jobs, he’d seen men going into tunnels clean at the beginning of the shift and emerging at the end of the shift covered in dark grime.

“He told me they were Boilermakers, and he wondered what they were doing. His story sparked my curiosity — and his, too,” Davila says. “So, when I went home that night, I looked up the Boilermakers union in the phone book and shortly after, headed down to the hall.”

Davila indentured into Local 92 in 2000. He worked in the field for 10 years before joining the local’s staff as a welding instructor. The job was a perfect fit considering he’d been teaching welding to adults through the San Bernardino school district’s adult education program since he was 19.

“When the guys at the office found out, they brought me in as a welding instructor,” Davila says.

Mentors help shape Davila

Moving to California at 15, not knowing the language and not having parents close by, proved challenging to Davila. He had to learn everything over again in a new language. He had to be autonomous as a teenager in a different country.

When he entered the Boilermaker apprenticeship, he finally had a career path. Even so, money continued to be an issue for Davila. He had to learn to budget inconsistent income to make it stretch all year.

“When you start as an apprentice, you must learn to manage your money,” Davila says. “When you are just starting out, you don’t have a lot of opportunities since you are still learning and trying to gain experience in your new field. So it made it difficult to adapt to this new way of living.”

But he found Boilermaker mentors. And they helped him learn and grow his skills, because they could see that Davila worked hard, worked smart and did his best. One of his first mentors was Local 92’s Johnny Bernal.

“He was one of the first Boilermaker foreman I had,” Davila remembers. “We were about 20 years apart when I first met him. He was a very knowledgeable, respectful and professional foreman. He taught me to make sure that every job I do is done right the first time. And, when it comes to rigging, there are no second chances.”

Bernal also saw something special in Davila.

“I met him when he was an apprentice. He was aggressive as far as learning the trade. He listened to my directions. He got the job done,” Bernal says. “In everything, he went beyond my expectations. He not only kept up with me and jumped right on the rigging, but sometimes he pushed me out of the way so he could do the job himself.”

There were others as well, like Dan Campos, who Davila describes as “one of the toughest Boilermakers I have ever met.” Davila also named a former L-92 business manager, Eddy Marquez, who first brought him into the office at the hall to teach apprentices.

“He was a great Boilermaker politician,” Davila says. “He taught me how to interact with business professionals and also how to show respect to the rank and file.”

Passion for the union’s future

Before Davila was elected president, then appointed acting business manager for L-92, he was the local’s training instructor. He also logged thousands of steps and hundreds of handshakes as he worked with union brothers and sisters from several of the building trades to advocate for the passage of SB 54, the California state law requiring that at least 60 percent of workers in the state’s refineries be graduates of an apprenticeship program certified by the state.

“My role was to go into every office at the capitol in the state senate and state house. We knocked on doors and sold the idea to lawmakers,” Davila says.

The law went into effect in 2014, and that gave Davila a sense of hope.

“As we lobbied for its passage, we worked together with all the building trades in California and accomplished our goal. Through the process, we made sacrifices but we also gained new partnerships.”

But Davila isn’t one to sit back and rest on his achievements. SB 54 has already increased the need for trained workers, and Local 92 has plans to meet that need. They bought a larger building in fall of 2018 — about four-times the size of the current building — with an eye toward doubling the size of their membership. And they’re well on the way.

During Davila’s off hours, he spends time with Irma and their three children, ranging in age from 3 to 18. He said the hardest part of being a Boilermaker was when he worked in the field and had to be away from home.

Now that he’s not working in the field, he’s found the time to build a house for his family. He hired some of the work out, but he supervised the entire project from the footings to the roof. Due to delays in permitting, the project took him two years. He finally finished and he and his family moved in in the fall of 2018.

“It felt good. I built it the way I wanted to, but I overspent my budget,” he says with a laugh.

Even with a bright future ahead, he won’t slow down. “I don’t believe that I will ever have enough knowledge in my field, and I will never want to stop working for something more.”

He says the union has played a “good and strong role” in his life, and he’d recommend the Boilermakers to anyone.

“They always say Boilermakers is a lifestyle. And it’s my lifestyle,” Davila says. “It’s what I like to do. Be whatever you want to be, but join the union. The union will help you get places you’ve never dreamed of.”

Tags  Local News
Locals  L-92
Reporter  V58N1
Published on the Web: April 16, 2019

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