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Question on Union Surveying  

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Newbie in NY
Posts: 2
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Joined: 3 years ago

Hello, this is my first post here, though I came across this site a while ago and have been browsing from time to time. It seems like a good source of information and experience, so I was wondering if I could get some input from anyone who either works, or has worked, or can shed any light on the world of surveying in a union. I've been working as an IP and a CAD tech for a couple of years for an engineering firm. We do a little of everything - boundary, topo, stakeout, etc. Recently we were on a prevailing wage job in NYC, and a union rep for the operating engineers happened to be passing by (or was purposely out looking for us) and stopped to talk to us. He was basically trying to sell us on either joining the union or trying to unionize our company. The latter isn't happening, I wouldn't even try. But it got me thinking. The prevailing wage rates around here range from much higher to almost triple what I make on a regular basis, depending on the nature of the work and the region. so I was wondering if anyone here could give me some input based on their own experience. Is it hard to even get in if you're already in the surveying field? Does it require an apprenticeship if you're coming in with experience already, or if you're an instrument person, do you enter at IP rates right off the bat? And how is the workload? Are you constantly busy working full time, or are things kind of scarce, or somewhere in between? I do like what I do right now, and I don't know how seriously I'm even thinking about it, but it's something that's been rolling around in my head so I was wondering what others have to say.

20 Replies
A Harris
Posts: 7678
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(@a-harris)
5,000+ posts
Joined: 9 years ago

Howdy, you have found a place full of answers.
I don't know much about union surveying or unions.
Have worked in several prevailing wage situations in the past, including State and Union situations and every one was construction related and had nothing to do with land surveying.
I also don't know of any surveyors that become licensed thru unions.
A Survey License comes thru land surveying, so "what is your goal" will be the end game.
After this weekend, maybe the NYC surveyors will bring you details about your area.
:gammon:

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Jim Frame
Posts: 5947
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Joined: 9 years ago

My union experience is pretty old -- it's been about 35 years -- and limited to Northern California, but the situation then was that when work was scarce it was essentially impossible for anyone to join the union (OE Local 3), but when the hall was empty any warm body with a fig leaf of experience and a willingness to pay dues could sign up immediately. The wage and benefit packages are formidable, but when an employer is paying that kind of money they're generally quick to lay off unionized staff when things slow down. At every union outfit I was aware of, there was a small core of valued field staff that worked pretty much year-round, and when work picked up they'd add back previously laid-off guys as needed. When work exploded they'd draw from the hall, but by that time the guys left in the hall usually came loaded with "issues" (e.g. substance abuse, toxic personality, no-show). The work tended to be mostly development-related, with lots of construction staking.

I know guys who had pretty good careers as union surveyors, but it's not for everyone, including me.

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Williwaw
Posts: 2161
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(@williwaw)
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Joined: 6 years ago

I've belonged to three different unions along the course of my career. I'm vested in two of them. Each had its pros and cons. The common element to all three was I had union negotiated benefits and competitive wages (for the most part), something I found generally lacking in most of my non-union experience. My present situation is about as good as I could ask for. The caveat is that a large portion of my education and practical experience came from outside the union. The level of training one will obtain through a union apprenticeship is minimal and not what one can expect to lead to licensure. Just my experience.

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Newbie in NY
Posts: 2
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(@newbie-in-ny)
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Joined: 3 years ago

I appreciate the info. I just wanted to add a little bit on where I'm coming from. I do hope to eventually become licensed, and I realize that union work is a whole different thing and it's not the type of work I think I'd like to do forever. And I know that I'd be sacrificing the necessary boundary experience. I guess I was looking at it more as a potential short-term lucrative opportunity. A way to possibly bank some good money for a couple years or so. Then maybe try to return to the kind of work I'm doing now. As a side note, I don't much mind construction surveying, I know a lot of guys hate it. Also, I don't live near or generally work in the city, and I was wondering if there's much of that type of work going on outside of the city.

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