Editor’s Note: LaborPress is proud to present the 2022 Outstanding Apprentice of the Year Awards for Long Island and New York City on Thursday, June 16, hosted by Teamsters Local 282 in Lake Success, NY. Today, we continue our ongoing series leading up to this year’s gala event introducing each of those fascinating and inspiring award-winners to the wider labor movement.
New York, NY – You might not think the skills of a deli man are transferable to the job of a Steamfitter — but Steamfitters Local 638’s James Kazmierczak says they are, indeed.
The fourth-year union apprentice used to work for the storied German Manor Delicatessen in Queens, and says his nearly decade helping to keep the place running gave him a “great foundation” for the challenging work he is doing now.
“You always try to be two steps ahead,” the 32-year-old says. “Just keeping account of what we had just transitioned over to steamfitting…I try to keep on top of my own material for my partner and myself. And [when] we’re running low on certain things like nuts, washers or couplings, just regular things that we’re going to need for the next day.”
Kazmierczak learned about steamfitting from his cousin’s husband, who also went through the five-year apprenticeship program. Over the years, the relative talked a lot about the experience and recommended it. Although Kazmierczak counts deli work, especially networking and interfacing with people, as “one of the great experiences” of his life — ultimately, he says, it just “wasn’t a career.” So, he took the plunge that would change his life.
Now, Kazmierczak is learning to master soldering and welding. He recently earned his brazing certificate. Kazmierczak has also spent the last four years studying fire protection systems. “I’ve got a really good knowledge on sprinkler systems, how they operate and just all the different types of sprinkler systems, between deluge systems, dry systems, pre-action systems, regular wet systems. There’s a lot that’s involved in sprinklers,” he says. “A lot of people say, ‘Oh, any Joe Schmo can do it.’ But there’s a lot to know.”
He’s also working on fire pumps, a difficult and challenging part of the job, albeit with some perks. “We’ve done two so far, my partner and myself. I’m very intrigued [by] doing [them]…it’s very good work, very hands on, a lot of heavy lifting, especially with the pumps and the risers,” Kazmierczak explains. “The pipes are pretty much anywhere from one-hundred-pounds to three-hundred-pounds — so you gotta get creative. You’ve got to know how to position yourself, position the other roustabout. It’s kind of like a crank that lifts a pipe up for you — you [have to] do it the right way. It makes you think a lot and you get creative. It’s fun.”
Kazmierczak also says, “I’m very passionate about [my work]. It’s one of those things where, you know, I look at my job as a career not just as a job, like a dead end job. I look forward to going to work every day.”
He is currently working at the Waldorf Astoria, which is closed while it undergoes a gut renovation. Kazmierczak and his crew are installing new piping in the world-famous hotel, which will contain condominiums when it reopens.
One thing that’s important to Kazmierczak is the camaraderie he’s experienced in this new career. “It’s kind of like you’re going to work with your brothers. You just build a relationship with the people.”
He celebrates those relationships and others that are important to him, saying, “Along with my wife, Francesca, I’d like to thank my parents, my family and friends and my Steamfitters family – especially the ones out in Queens.”
Kazmierczak lives with his wife in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.