Looking to ‘step up our game,’ Ironworkers open new training center in St. Paul

(by Michael Moore, Union Advocate) Calling it an investment critical to the union’s survival, Ironworkers Local 512 Business Manager Charlie Roberts cut the ribbon on a new $3.1 million apprenticeship training center in St. Paul. A large crowd of journey-level, apprentice and retired Ironworkers attended the ceremony in late August, which marked the completion of Local 512’s 18,000-square-foot facility on Pierce Butler Route, near Dale Avenue. Construction work began in January.

Larry Gilbertson, the local’s training director, said the state-of-the-art facility reflects the “commitment to training that Ironworkers Local 512 has always had, so that we’re putting out the hardest working, best trained workers.”

Ironworkers twice voted to approve a dues increase to finance the new training center.

“We built this on our own,” Roberts told members. “You can be proud of it. It’s the Ironworkers stuffing the bolts in the high iron who are responsible for this.”

The investment boosts the capacity of Local 512’s apprenticeship program, increasing the number of welding booths from 19 to 30, doubling the number of classrooms from four to eight and doubling the amount of shop space for hands-on training. The new building is tall enough to allow apprentices to make full use of a two-story training frame, and there’s a new courtyard for outdoor work and events.

“For the next 100 years we can train the best Ironworkers in the country because of this facility,” business agent Barry Davies said.

Photo of Ironworkers new Training CenterThe new training center will be named after Roberts, who announced he is stepping aside as business manager, with Davies stepping in as his immediate replacement. Roberts said he’s confident the investment in training and education will provide Local 512 members with a competitive edge for years to come.

“We’re in a different environment. We’re surrounded by right-to-work states, with Michigan and Wisconsin being the latest,” Roberts said. “We have got to step up our game.”

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman attended the ceremony. He praised the union’s commitment to providing a pathway into middle-class careers.

“Our job as elected officials is to make sure we have work for you,” Coleman said, plugging efforts to build a pro-soccer stadium in St. Paul. “When we keep investing in our community and you keep investing in yourselves, that’s how we grow a community.”

Local 512 represents 1,343 journey-level Ironworkers, 403 apprentices and 278 probationary members working in Minnesota, North Dakota and 21 counties in western Wisconsin.

(This article is reprinted from the St Paul Union Advocate.)