Engineers’ News – Winter 2022
Opening a new aerial and materials handling equipment rental location in a competitive market like Detroit would be difficult at any time. Doing it in the middle of a worldwide pandemic that made even the most routine of staffing, sales, and dispatching work challenging might redefine the word itself. Yet that is exactly the task Terrie Webster found herself undertaking when, in February of 2021, she oversaw the opening of a new Skyworks location in Romulus, Michigan.
Webster knew that she would require three essential things if this was going to work. She already had the first – the support of Skyworks headquarters itself. Skyworks, based in Buffalo, New York, prides themselves on the autonomy and support they give their branches. But that alone wouldn’t make it a success. She calculated that in order to make this new branch leap out of the gate, she would also need an exceptional team of technicians, mechanics, drivers, logistics managers, and sales professionals. And she would need a partnership with Operating Engineers 324, to represent those mechanics, technicians, and drivers.
Starting with four employees, Skyworks has already grown to 15, including several members of Operating Engineers 324. OE324 members work as Field Technicians, Shop Mechanics, CDL Drivers, and Yard Managers for Skyworks. It was important to Webster that they get off on the right foot immediately by building a relationship.
“When you build a relationship with the Union, there’s not that stigma of… ‘they just want to fight and buck everything’” Webster explains. “(OE324) is part of the reason we can get into big job sites. We want to work with the people (OE324) whose members are part of our customers (contractors).”
The team at Skyworks provides construction contractors throughout Michigan the equipment they need for work, like fire retardant spraying, glazing, plumbing, and electrical work. Sales Rep. Brendan Murphy explains that there are hundreds of pieces of equipment potentially on the move any given day.
“Boom lifts, scissor lifts, telehandlers, those are our big movers,” says Murphy.
Moving that much equipment means that there is nothing more important than minimizing downtime and keeping the equipment safe and in good working order. That’s where OE324 members come in.
Steve Hubbell works as a Field Service Technician. Steve started “tinkering” when he was a teenager, and attended college after high school to learn about high-performance automotive engines. He then moved to working for a truck manufacturer as a diesel mechanic, and when the opportunity came to join the Skyworks team, he made the jump.
“When I heard it was going to be a union shop, I made the decision to come over,” explains Steve. “The benefits are great. I was paying for my insurance – to know now that I pay my dues and everything else is taken care of is great.”
He goes on to explain that there is no such thing as a “typical” day for a Field Service Technician.
“Yesterday, I went to Toledo to pick up a forklift, then did a few service calls. Inspections, repairs, every day is different. I like it being different like that. And being on the job sites and seeing what’s being built is pretty cool.”
What Steve describes is what Webster calls the ‘team mentality.’
“Every single person pitches in and does what they need when they need to do it. Both of our field technicians – Steve Hubbell and Dennis Couture – they deliver equipment as much as they wrench on stuff. It might mean they have the trailer with them all day as they do service calls, but it’s that ‘team mentality.’ Our A Mechanics hop in the yard if they need to. Our coordinator Andy is the best in the business.”
“It’s a conglomerate effort where everyone does everything. I have a crew that takes it upon themselves to get everything done and do it the right way.”
In the shop this day, a trio of mechanics are fixing equipment coming in and sending it back out repaired and inspected.
Michael Davis is a Mechanic and Yard Manager. He started his career at Skyworks, and has already progressed from Utility 2 to Yard Manager Utility 1, and is now a Mechanic C. It’s his job to keep the equipment in the yard ready to go out at any time.
“Getting all the machines ready to go out is my job,” explains Michael. “I love that I get to do a bit of everything in this role – welding, fabricating, wrenching – like to work with my hands.”
Across from him, Mechanic Jason Porter is working on the control panel on a lift. Jason started by working on projects of his own and found a passion for repairing equipment.
“Figuring out what the problem is and to solve it – it’s a good feeling to be able to fix something,” says Jason.
He goes on to say that it is the culture at Skyworks he appreciates most.
“I think we all go out of our way to help each other out around here.”
Shop Technician John Collins agrees.
John, who describes his job as “I diagnose and fix problems” was not as sure as his coworkers about his future in mechanical work at first.
“I thought I’d be a computer geek, and work on computers, but I ended up loving this,” he explains. “I like working with my hands, and here I get a vast variety of knowledge.”
John is quick to point out that this job is not without its technical aspects though – things where having some computer knowledge has helped him.
“Everything has multiple computers on them,” he explains. “ECMs, UCMs, platform controllers, ground controllers. We check parameters. I’ve had to recalibrate parameter settings – that a whole coding script itself”
Jason continues. “I’ve really enjoyed getting into the computer side of it. Multiple machines have different computers, different motor controllers. For example, Skyjack started with their motor controller – DC side, direct current – and Genie and the others seemed to follow suit.”
All three have positive things to say about their introduction and experience with the Union. Says Michael, “My interaction with the Union has been good – it’s good job security and they’ve answered any questions I’ve had”
“I love it – its way better being in a Union shop. The way they take care of you and the benefits, “says Jason.
He’s even looking forward to future OE324 events.
“I want to do the Ride-Out (Solidarity Ride),” he said. “I can’t wait to check it out.”
For John, dealing with OE324 showed him how off the mark other places he had worked had been.
“My two prior shops were non-union, and they always had union-busters come in and talk down about it (the union), but it’s been great to be part. Health insurance and steady guaranteed hours are the best part- and nice interaction (with our rep).”
For rental coordinator Andy Holt, that defiantly tracks. Holt has worked for OE324 signatory companies for years, and notes how esteemed the organization – and its Registered Apprenticeship programs – are throughout the industry.
“324 folks are all very knowledgeable, says Holt. “When I was with Cloverdale, I saw how successful and ready the apprentices were. They were eager to learn because they knew the advantages coming out of it.”
“For myself, it’s been great, because any questions I’ve ever had or customers who had questions – technical questions – I knew I could lean on them for the right answers. They are a good group and I think the training is there, particularly if they want to learn more and grow, the opportunity is there.”
When an older Technician left earlier this year, Webster reached out to OE324 to fill the role. Business Representative Kevin Besonen put her in touch with OE324 Technician Apprentice Coordinator Steve McFarland and, earlier this month, Skyworks took on their first OE324 Apprentice. There are already plans to add another as the first moved through the program and up the ranks.
“(The OE324) Apprenticeship program is amazing,” says Webster. “The mechanic and truck driving fields are incredibly needed. We cannot do what we do without them.”
So two years in, Skyworks has a team that they can rely on that keeps equipment up, running, and delivered, and a great relationship with the union.
“The customers who have been in this business for a long time, when they hear we are a 324 shop, they know they’ll be taken care of,” explains Murphy. “They know that if something goes wrong, with us and 324, they will get helped by people who are properly trained, know how to operate equipment, know how to fix it, and are good with the customer.”
And the future?
“I believe we’re getting out there more and more,” says Holt. “We’re dealing with customers well on the sites, and we’re still growing and getting out there more. The opportunities are endless for us. I think we have a good crew out there to get it done.”