Rope Access Union in an oil refinery

Rope Access Workers Union

Do rope access technicians need a union?

This question is debated among rope techs all over the country but would we really benefit from a union?


Unions are put in place to protect workers, give fair wages, and make the workplace safer. However some non-union employees complain that unions can be detrimental to a companies’ growth, and that many people abuse the benefits of being in a union. So one has to wonder… as a rope access technician, over the lifetime of your career, would a rope access union be beneficial? Will you earn more and will your career progress?

The rope access industry is steadily growing in the US, following the trend worldwide. Europe, Australia and Asia have seen huge growth over the past 5 to 10 years. Customers a realizing that Rope Access is not only the safest and quickest from of access but also the cheapest. For example in the Middle East; the United Arab of Emirates has moved to outlaw the use of swing stages & BMU’s (Building Maintenance units) in places such as Dubai and Abu Dhabi; places where Rope Access is big business and the preferred method of access. For once we in the US aren’t the trend setters but with commercial usage of Rope Access becoming more and more prominent along the Eastern seaboard it won’t be long before the rest of the country follows suit and ropes are being dropped from roof tops nation-wide.

As Industrial Rope Access becomes more prominent and well known and people no longer give you those funny looks when you tell them what it is you do for a living… “You hang from what?” the question of a union will soon come up.

The Pros of being in a rope access union

  • Health benefits – Most (if not all) unionized workers are entitled to extended health and medical benefits. Not only are you potentially covered for hundreds of thousands of dollars over your career, but you’re also protected by the union in that your job seems more secure if you have to take extended leaves due to illness.
  • Job security – It’s pretty tough to get fired when you’re part of a union. You have to do something fairly spectacular to get canned.
  • Higher wages – Perhaps the most important of all the benefits of a union is the fact that you’re likely to get paid better. Unions have teams of wage specialists studying the market to ensure everyone is getting paid properly.


The Cons of being in a rope access union

  • Strikes – The recent refinery strikes in California are testament to this. Seldom do we agree on everything and you might not agree with a strike but if you want to stay part of that union you had better not cross that picket line. Most unions offer financial help for essential bills, but no wages means you’re probably going to have to say goodbye to those football and baseball cable packages.
  • The wrong people get rewarded – You might break your back for your employer but Billy Bob might not give a rat’s ass if the company is performing or not and he may get paid more than you.
  • It can hold you back – seniority plays such a huge role in unionized environments. Sometimes the best person for the job gets passed over because they don’t have enough seniority.

Rope access union starts with you

Those are just a few of the arguments for and against unions. This question will come up over and over again in the not so distant future. It’s definitely something for Rope Techs to consider as you will be the ones to decide.

Rope Access USA will run a poll soon but in the meantime give us your thoughts below.

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Comments (11)

  • Mac1977

    Great article and an interesting subject. There are so many new guys coming into the business and a union would really help them. My experience has been very good but every industry has unscrupulous employers and rope techs need protection.

    I’ll be keeping an eye on this.

    April 19, 2015 at 7:05 am
  • Bruce

    Unions mostly benefit the lazies at the top! People can be horrible at their jobs but short of killing someone, they can’t be fired because of the union.

    April 20, 2015 at 12:41 am
  • James

    I’d join a union in a flash and then maybe get paid what I deserve.

    April 24, 2015 at 10:13 pm
  • Tyler

    I wouldn’t be so sure James. A union could spell touble for the industry as we know it.

    April 24, 2015 at 10:17 pm
  • Antonio

    Can’t see it happening, well at least for a long time.

    April 25, 2015 at 9:46 pm
  • Gus

    Unions are only in place to help one person, (the bosses).

    April 26, 2015 at 1:55 pm
  • Connor Turley

    If rope access unionized I’d close my company done in the U.S. that same day.

    The demands unions put on employers are ridiculous and regardless of what they say safety standard would drop, what’s the point of having safety rules if you can’t fire someone for breaking them.

    It would be a bad day for rope access if it happened.

    April 26, 2015 at 10:36 pm
  • Ryan Daudistel


    I hire my guys through a union. My agreement says that I can hand pick anybody from the union body. Effectively letting me fire anybody at any time. There is plenty of money in the economy to pay them what they are worth plus healthcare and retirement.

    A properly run union would be a benefit to our industry. It would help set consistent regional rates for our various skill sets and keep the rates from being so stagnant, or undercut by newbies.

    Whether we use the word “union” or not, our industry would benefit by working together to keep wages and working conditions up.

    April 28, 2015 at 3:24 pm
  • Wayne

    I agree Ryan… Perhaps not a union as we know it but we definitely need something.

    April 29, 2015 at 12:20 am
  • Derick Reinhart

    Here is a question, if the rope access forms its own union, don’t you think the unions that we are taking work from will raise issue with us? For instance, window washers, roofers, masonry, steel workers, ibew, etc. Most of the work that we do on rope already has a union for guys who do it from the ground, lifts and scaffolding. We essentially would be crossing union lines. This is an issue that I have found in NYC, I am currently working on a small localized rope access committee, a group of local RA techs and companies to come together to promote RA in general to the governing and regulatory bodies in my geographical area.
    Also, I am working with the Regulations Subcommittee of SPRAT to promote local SPRAT Chapters to help with local regulatory issues and spreading of RA education.
    Remember “a higher tide raises all boats…” Raising awareness and educating the powers that be and clientele will create work for everyone in the area, so why not work together as an industry in your specific area rather than taking on much larger and more powerful established unions. Just my thoughts…

    March 14, 2016 at 2:09 pm

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