LOS ANGELES — Training is necessary, but it can be quite costly, especially when you figure in travel, accommodations, and lost work time. Because of this, one union training center here has opened up a creative option to help fund more flexible training for contractors’ union-member employees.

Earlier this year, the Los Angeles Joint Journeyman and Apprentice Training Center’s (JJATC’s) Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Training Center introduced a “Training Voucher Program” that supplements its existing curriculum, which many contractors say is already quite good but not specific enough in some areas, such as controls.

The program offers “another way for our membership to get classes and in-factory training,” said Tom Newbro, JJATC director of training. It offsets the cost to the contractor by subsidizing the worker’s wages, he said.

Union training, of course, is funded through collective bargaining contributions. For United Association (UA) Local 250’s air conditioning-refrigeration members, the JJATC is making part of those contributions available to offset specific, approved training that goes beyond what the center can provide (such as manufacturer factory training).

How the voucher program works

According to an announcement from the JJATC, “The purpose of the voucher system is to provide the Refrigeration Training Trust members with factory training, while offering the contractor financial relief.”

Here’s how it works.

The contractor submits a voucher application to the training center for review and approval before the course starts. In order for the course to be approved, it must meet the following criteria:

  • The training program must take place within the program’s calendar year (in this case 1999).

  • Reimbursement is for wages, vacation, and holiday pay only. The contractor still pays the member; then the training center sends approved reimbursement to the contractor.

After the training is completed, the contractor submits a sheet signed by the union member and the contractor, and the grade and completion certificate from the course to the JJATC.

If the member doesn’t attend an approved course, or if the member gets a course grade lower than a “C,” then the contractor will not be reimbursed.

Applications for reimbursement must be submitted in a timely manner (within 60 days of course completion) to be valid.

And, in order to be eligible to use the program at all, the signatory contractor must be current with their benefit payments.

Contractor's view

Newbro said that so far this year about 20 members have participated, almost exclusively from the commercial sector. Not surprisingly, he expects that number to be higher next year.

Don Smith, director of operations with Hill Refrigeration, Oakland, CA, said that he sent four employees this year and may send more next year. However, “That would depend on our needs here.

“They offer really fine training here, but they can’t cover it all,” Smith said. His company makes, installs, and services refrigerated cases and walk-in boxes, and works with energy management systems (ems). The center does not offer ems training.

“The voucher allows training for electronic controls and proprietary Carrier training,” Smith continued. “The problem was, if I wanted to send someone to Minneapolis [for Honeywell controls training], I would have to shoulder the burden.

“All that has changed with this voucher system.”