|Retiree Story from the Vault|
Former Local 332 President: Sem Solomon
Silicon Valley: From Agriculture to Tech & Recession to Boom
Semyon Solomon has been a member of Local 332 since 1963, and was the president for three terms from 1984-1993. Sem was part of the generation that built Silicon Valley as we know it, and has seen our industry from the depths of the 1980s recession to the peak of the 1990s dotcom boom.
“Silicon Valley keeps changing and has gone from agricultural to high-tech. When my parents bought their house in 1950, only 46,000 people lived in Santa Clara County. It’s just a ‘little’ larger now, and so many of the jobs I worked on have been torn down, and newer, larger buildings have taken their place.
“Of course the trades have changed, and 332 has kept pace with technology. Probably the biggest change is how we communicate with each other. In the 60s, it was in person or by letter. There were no phones on the jobsites, and you had to rely on your training if there was a challenge to figure out. Nowadays, we have email, smart phones, and texting. You can get the word out about something. And if you have a problem on a job, you can take a picture and get instant troubleshooting from a buddy.
“Our union has also changed dramatically. When I first started, there was no
“I retired from the field in 2004 and started teaching CAD at our JATC. I’m still very active in the union and like to keep busy. I love working out, riding my bike, or taking photographs, and I get to spend more time with my wife, two daughters, and two grandkids.
“My advice for the younger guys coming up is to really focus on training, asking questions, and learning everything you can. Finally, always make a point of getting to know the other people on a job. I find the best way to work is to know who you’re working with and appreciate the camaraderie of the trades.”
332 Apprentices Class of 1966
The Union Difference by Sem Solomon
So many things in the trades have changed over the years, but there’s one thing that always stay the same: the value of our union training.
In 1984, I was working for Wanderer Electric, driving a service van, and I got called to a Sunnyvale house that had a fire the night before. When I arrived, I met the homeowners: a medical intern at Stanford hospital and his wife, who was nursing their one-month-old son.
The doctor explained that he had come into the kitchen to get a drink of water in the middle of the night, smelled smoke, and noticed that the ceiling around the light fixture was bulging down.
He called the Fire Department. They came out, turned off the power, broke open the ceiling, and hosed everything down. The homeowners asked me to do what I could to get their house up and running again.
First I checked the junction box above where the fixture had been. The wire insulation was completely melted off, and the wires had arced across the back of the box, like someone had been using an arc welder. I then checked out the panel and noticed that none of the branch circuit breakers were tripped off. The breakers were Zinsco brand, which were notoriously defective and had been involved in many fires, because they almost never tripped on a short circuit.
I removed the junction box in the ceiling above the light, cut the lighting circuit NM cable off to a spot about five feet away, and put the cable into a new junction box. There were two burned conduits above where the original light box had been: a 3/4” and a 1”. I cut both pipes open, and removed enough to where the wire inside them was not burned. I installed a junction box on each conduit, put covers on, and then set aside the burned pipe, wire, and old junction box for the homeowner’s insurance company. I made sure everything was safe before testing.
I turned all of the breakers off, turned on the main breaker, and one by one turned each breaker back on, except the breakers that were connected to the circuits in the conduits.
Everything stayed on, and there was no buzzing or humming from the breakers. I then went into the house, and started checking everything out. The house lighting was on, the furnace was running, and the rest of the receptacles were all on.
I then screened the kitchen and dinette area off from the rest of the house with a plastic sheet to contain the smoke odor, and keep the heat in the rest of the house.
Back in the kitchen, I opened up each appliance and saw they were completely flooded with the water used to put out the fire. Everything in the kitchen, including the cabinets, was damaged. When the insurance representative came by, I showed him what caused the fire, and why the entire kitchen had to be rebuilt.
Later that day, the young doctor came home, checked on his wife and son, and then came out to see me. He said something that has reverberated with me till this day 37 years later.
He said, “Now I know the difference between union and non-union. I had two non-union contractors come to my house before you. They didn’t have a clue what to do, but in one hour, you had my house powered back up and running again so my wife, son and I don’t have to move out. I’ll appreciate your service forever.”
And that’s the union difference. Our training is world class, and whether it’s a small residential job or an enormous tech campus with cutting edge technology, 332’s members get the job done right.