Member Feature: Bill Comstock, Sheet Metal Workers Local #1



Bill Comstock is the Business Manager for Sheet Metal Workers’ International Local #1. His organization will be 125 years old in January 2013. “Tinners” were one of the first labor forces in the Peoria area to unionize due to their deep connection to the distilleries and breweries in town. They made the copper vessels for most of those businesses. Most Sheet Metal Workers today work on HVAC systems.

The United States Department of Labor bestowed honors this month to the Sheet Metal Workers’ Local Union #1 & SMACNA Joint Apprenticeship Training &Journeymen Retraining School with an Apprenticeship Innovator and Trailblazer award. The honor is given to apprenticeship programs that place an emphasis on developing curriculums focused on current workforce demands. According to Bill, knowledge of current workforce demands is due to their Joint Apprenticeship Training Committee (JATC) which is governed by three Sheet Metal Workers’ and three Sheet Metal Air Conditioner Contractors National Association (SMACNA) member contractors. They cooperate and innovate to obtain goals of improving the industry while maintaining market share, which is about 80% in the commercial sector in their 10-county area of Central Illinois.

The JATC has been working hard to move the apprenticeship program forward meeting twice as much as required to revise the curriculum to ensure the school releases skilled workers to meet the needs of the contractors. The new curriculum will include “modular training” and Building Performance Institute, Inc. (BPI) certification.

A Sheet Metal Worker apprentice currently has three choices of programs: Building Trades, Residential and Service. The new modular training will mix these three classes together to allow teaching of core construction knowledge (safety, labor history, basic math) then offer specialty training toward a specific career path such as HVAC, Service, Welding, Residential and Industrial. This specialty training will produce a more skilled, productive and knowledgeable worker. The training is also coordinated to encourage a life-long-learner mentality. After completion of the apprenticeship program, union members can return for more training toward a different specialty. Apprentices will also receive BPI certification to perform home energy audits for the residential sector. This training is due to the likely requirement of all new Illinois homes to have blower door testing to ensure high building performance.

The new curriculum will begin with the Fall 2012 Apprentice class. Along with a new curriculum, they will be trained in a new facility. They will begin in the training facility in Peoria Heights but will move to the new JATC building in Morton sometime this Fall.

Bill Comstock believes the service sector will see the most growth in his union workforce. He says, “There will continue to be construction, but reports I’ve read state there are one billion pieces of heating and cooling equipment in this country.” There will be plenty of work maintaining and retrofitting that equipment for the future. This is also where the BPI training comes into play for retrofitting HVAC equipment. Although an owner may choose a high efficiency HVAC system to replace an old system, the owner may not get the performance expected out of the unit without treating the building envelope. Sheet Metal Workers will have the knowledge to get the best total performance out of a high efficiency unit due to BPI training. It will help them to assess the entire building envelope. To provide satisfaction to the owner, Sheet Metal Workers can explain what else may need to be completed in a project so that the owner can receive the expected result.

Although there are other JATC’s teaching BPI and HVAC retrofitting, Bill believes the overall goal is to make the HVAC service, maintenance and retrofitting sector as seamless for the end user as possible. Bill thinks it is an asset to the union industry to have as many union workers trained in total building performance. “Labor relations are better here in Peoria. We have a better ability to work things out here.” The over-arching goal is to keep the job union, no matter which union receives the work.

Bill Comstock was born and raised in Pekin, Illinois. He grew up a Sheet Metal Workers’ son. Bill’s first choice for a career was to become a Marine. Instead, he went to Illinois Central College taking pre-engineering courses while working at Burger King. To the Sheet Metal Workers’ Local #1’s great fortune, Burger King couldn’t make house payments and pay for school. In 1986, Bill took the Sheet Metal Workers’ Apprenticeship test and by October of that year he started working with JA Fritch. He’s been a member of the union for 26 years.

Bill’s first experience in a leadership role came when he served on the school board for South Pekin. After that, he became more active in the union by serving on a few committees then running for an office and eventually making it to President. In 2008, former Business Manager, Jerry Pyatt, decided to retire. Bill ran for the position.He was elected in a special election, then again in a standard election in 2009 and now is serving his second full term as Business Manager as he was recently re-elected for another 3 years. Although this position for the union is much different than working with JA Fritch, Bill truly enjoys what he is doing.

Bill still lives in Pekin with his wife, Johl. He has four children, three sons and a daughter.

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