The Mission Bay project includes 13 blocks of mainly residential apartments, including high-end executive, market-rate, and low-income units, and some commercial space. On the Job Site visited with members of Sheet Metal Workers Local 104 as they were working on seven buildings consisting of 1,297 apartments. While putting the finishing touches on 147 residential units on Block 3, in addition to normal duct work and venting, Local 104 members installed some challenging architectural work: decorative Rhine zinc panels from Germany and copper-coated stainless steel mesh panels that protrude from the building.
Local 104 is helping San Francisco meet its affordable housing needs and ensuring that local residents are working on these construction projects. Sixty percent of the Sheet Metal workers on these projects are local San Francisco residents, surpassing the 50-percent local hire requirement. The local residents are definitely going to show off this building to their friends and family for years to come.
The Local 104 members working at Mission Bay are employed by Bay City Mechanical, Marina Mechanical, Omni Sheet Metal and Valley Sheet Metal. The general contractors are Nibbi Brothers, Roberts Obayashi and Suffolk Construction.
Sheet Metal Workers Local 104 represents a membership more than 5,000 workers that cover 46 northern California counties.
–Voices From the Union–
It’s tough being an apprentice, but it’s enjoyable. The journeymen and foremen taught me a lot. I like doing hard and fast-paced work, jumping right into the fire and learning as I go. Before, I was working in an office, but I’m not a cubicle guy. I like working outdoors.
And I like working with the guys and gals that I grew up with, like Anna. I went to high school with her older sister and knew her brother.
My dad worked for the Port of San Francisco. My sister is a San Francisco firefighter and my brother is a San Francisco police officer.
We’re just finishing off Mission Bay Block 2. We were here for a year and two months. Seeing it completed is the best part. It was a big job, but I was blessed with hard-working sheet metal workers. I may have lost a little sleep at times, but I had plenty of hard-working guys backing me up, and they made everything go smoothly. We train them and lead by example. Walk as if you have a sense of urgency and make sure you complete what you’re doing and that you don’t have to come back.
A couple of times we had trouble figuring out details that weren’t on the prints. We want to make sure that when we’re done everything is going to be watertight and last for 25 years. We came up with some pretty good ideas and then got with the architect. We explained what we were taught and hoped he would understand my drawings. At first the meeting got a little weird, but then he understood I was there to help and make sure it got done right. He’s a good architect and understood. We all worked together as one big team. And now people are moving in.
The best part of the trade for me is architectural sheet metal. I like being on the roof, working in the sun and taking in the views from 15 or 20 stories up. I love heights. Get me as high as you can. I’ve dangled down the side of a building on a bosun’s chair, and I’ve worked on a swing stage. That was quite scary, but fun. You just double check everything, make sure all your tie-off points are correct and make sure that all your tools are tied off too. And then double check that nobody is below you and the area is caution-taped off.
The highest I’ve been is 135 feet in a boom lift. The tallest building I’ve been up was 42 stories. How is to be in a boom lift? It was very shaky and very bouncy. Every movement you do is very slow.
I like to get apprentices up there and teach them the ropes. I’ve only had one who could not do it, and I had to take him back to the ground. Usually everyone gets used to it because, really, you are safe. You just have to trust your equipment, no matter how dangerous it looks. As long as you cross every “T” and dot every “I” you’re very safe.
Being a steward is awesome. You communicate between our business agent and the other workers and then keep an eye on everything to make sure it’s going the way it’s supposed to. Problem solving between the workers and the bosses and the union is really rewarding.
The coolest thing on this job was doing the zinc paneling. It’s a material I haven’t used before, so getting to know how to work with it was interesting. Zinc is very brittle. The trick is to start your snips from the inside of the panel and work your way out. When you’re done it looks awesome. Working with my best apprentice we got out about 56 panels a day. Every panel on this job I touched with my hands.
Everybody likes a good hard day’s work. Then to be able to step back and take pride in what you’ve accomplished, now that is a satisfying feeling. That zinc looks really cool.
This trade has changed a lot over the years. When I started there were no cell phones, pagers, or computers. Everything was on paper. Now I can view details of the plans on my cell phone. I hold my phone up to compare it with what is installed.
One of the biggest changes is that there are a lot more minorities and women active in the trade. Back in the 80s, women in particular were having more trouble. They would seem lost. We needed to improve our training programs. Now when I see women graduating from the apprenticeship program, they work just as well as the men. The trade is about doing the work, and women have certainly proven themselves. Working with different people and learning about their different cultures and the way they do things has been a real plus for me.
It’s a great trade, but it is not easy physically or mentally. We interact much more with the other trades on a daily basis and are dependent on each other. The framers are always asking us what we need and how to frame it out for our duct work. The electricians need to know where to bring the power. The roofers need to roof up to our curbs, and the plumbers provide gas and water feed lines for our boilers and HVAC systems. About the only people we don’t work with are the landscapers.
The main trick is staying organized and keeping the material on site in front of the crew, keeping everybody productive, and at the same time keeping everyone safe. At the end of the day everybody goes home to their family with all their fingers and toes.
Normally in the sheet metal trade we fabricate what we install. We’re in constant communication with the guys in the shop, and we can tell them what worked and what didn’t. We email spread sheets and drawings back and forth. I can view drawings on my laptop right here on the job site – scary and fun. At the end of the day I will send the shop foreman a picture and say, “Hey look, it fit.”
On this job we installed 460 panels of prefabricated copper-coated stainless steel and 820 Rhine zinc panels shipped over from Germany. When it takes 6 months to get a replacement piece you have to make sure all the pieces fit. That can make for sleepless nights until the last piece is in.
I ordered all the panels from the drawings and then drove up to the fabricating shop in Windsor, in the North Bay, where they were fabricating the steel frames that hold the copper. They weld on steel tabs that are then bolted to the copper with one-inch rubber spacers to keep the copper and steel from touching. I physically measured the tabs and the holes they drilled to make sure they would line up with the prefabricated holes punched in the copper. There’s not a lot of room for forgiveness. We got every one of those panels bolted together and fitted, all 460, exactly.
We start with a piece of flat sheet metal, fabricate everything from it, and then install it. I love seeing the finished product. It is amazing. I love doing the work and I love the people I’m working around. We are family.
My father was a sheet metal worker. We’d be in a restaurant and he’d say, “Hey, I did this,” “I did that,” or we’d pass a certain building and he’d point out the things he did. Now I’m looking forward to eating in a restaurant with my kids and saying, “Hey, look at that duct work. I did that.” I’m a San Francisco resident, and this is one building I’m going to take them to when we’re done.
I used to be a mechanic for an auto dealership. This is a lot better experience. I’m learning how to read the prints on paper. It’s pretty cool to see it go from a flat drawing to up in the air.
I’ve worked in just about every block on the Mission Bay project, from Blocks 3 to 11. I just drove by the other day and showed it off to my girlfriend, all the stuff I did.