Local 34 adds first apprentices in 20 years

Apprentice Justin McGilton, r., builds a locomotive snow plow under the watchful eye of journeyman Jeff Matzek.

Two enter three-year program at railroad lodge

AFTER 20 YEARS, Local 34, a Topeka, Kan., lodge that repairs heavy locomotives for the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway (BNSF), again has an apprentice program. Local 34 Pres. Anthony DaPrato said railroad mergers and consolidations, along with a large pool of available skilled workers, apparently convinced management to end the apprenticeship program two decades ago.

“Alan Scheer [Railroad Division Services director], and Danny Hamilton [IR], have been trying for years to convince the railroad that the apprenticeship is the way to get good quality craftsmen to carry them into the future,” DaPrato said.

“The entry wage rate at which the railroad wanted to bring personnel in was less than attractive, even for an apprentice,” said Scheer. “You cannot attract quality people for that kind of pay.” Scheer and a Local 34 committee negotiated with BNSF to develop the new apprentice agreement, which includes a substantially higher pay rate. BNSF also agreed to pick up the cost of technical training.

On Jan. 2, Justin Smith and Justin McGilton became the first two members to begin apprentice instruction in the new program. “They will see a major percentage of their training in-house,” said DaPrato, “because a lot of what is needed for a railroad Boilermaker is not taught just anywhere.”

Kent Dunn, the interim Local 34 shop steward, said the apprentices will also spend time in a vocational facility and perhaps receive some computer-based training. “We will get them trained correctly,” he asserted. “Training will last three years. The apprentices will be trained on shears, brakes, and a variety of steel-cutting machines. Frame straightening, handrails, parts fabrication, and wreck repair will also be taught.”

In an interesting twist, the last Local 34 Boilermaker to be trained under the old apprentice program was part of the negotiating team that created the new one. Kenny Nelson, the lodge’s chairman, recently shipped out to Iraq with his National Guard unit (see Oct.-Dec. issue, page 9).

“Kenny Nelson believes that Boilermakers who go through an apprenticeship program are less likely to have accidents and are potentially more apt to retain knowledge,” said DaPrato. “Kenny and Kent Dunn worked closely with Alan Scheer, his team and the company management team to get the program restarted. We expect Kenny back in another year. It would be fitting if he could help train these two guys whom he has never met but shares a common bond with — becoming an apprentice Boilermaker.”