Hundreds camp out for 50 union jobs

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People walking along 32nd Avenue in Woodside last week may have thought they stumbled upon an Occupy Wall Street demonstration, or that the “Dark Knight Rises” had been released months in advance.

Instead, roughly 600 people were camped out – many of them for a week – in the hopes of receiving an application to join the apprenticeship program of Local 46 of the Metallic Lathers and Reinforcing Ironworkers Union.

A line began forming in front of the union’s offices, located at 61-02 32nd Avenue in Woodside, on April 24 and grew exponentially, according to Bill Hohlfeld, coordinator of the labor management cooperative trust for Local 46. The gathering lasted until the morning of April 30, when 500 applications were handed out for the apprenticeship program on a first-come, first-served basis.

Despite the painstakingly-long hours many on line waited for their application, only 50 people will be chosen to join the program at this time.

“Nobody told people to come that early. People just didn’t want to risk not getting an application so they chose to do that. It is very competitive,” Hohlfeld said. “There are 50 initial positions opening, but [this list of applicants] is active for two years. Anytime during those two years, people can be chosen if spots open up.”

Those fortunate enough to receive applications will then take a manual dexterity test and a written exam dealing with basic mechanical aptitude and special relations – both given by the Department of Labor. Personal interviews will also be conducted by the joint apprenticeship committee of Local 46, and all applicants will have to pass a drug test.

Candidates will be chosen based on a combination of all factors, with final decisions made by the joint apprenticeship committee.

Despite the size and length of the campout, Hohlfeld says there were “no altercations or problems” during the week and grievances from the public “weren’t anything overwhelming.”

Local 46 provided campers with food, water and toilet facilities in an attempt to keep the strenuous situation as pleasant as possible.

“I thought that for the most part, the vast majority – with very few exceptions – were very well behaved. They pretty much complied with whatever we requested they do,” he said. “They were just people looking for an opportunity to better themselves.”