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Union leader wears many hats

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John Wall Jr. is a man who wears many hats.

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Augusta native John Wall started working at Savannah River Site in 1978.  EMILY ROSE BENNETT/STAFF
EMILY ROSE BENNETT/STAFF
Augusta native John Wall started working at Savannah River Site in 1978.

As a journeyman insulator at Savannah River Site, Wall dons a hard hat while insulating steam lines, ducts on air-conditioning units and other utilities.

As a devoted grandfather, Wall puts on a baseball cap to help his 12-year-old granddaughter practice in batting cages or to go fishing with his 16-year-old grandson.

Wall’s other hats, as president of the Augusta Building and Construction Trades Coun­cil and business manger for his local International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators and Allied Workers, are invisible, but they’re definitely there.

“I like helping,” Wall said of his union work. “I feel like I’m pretty good with people. That’s some of the enjoyment I get out of it.”

The Augusta native started working at SRS in 1978. When insulation work there dried up, Wall found himself traveling across the country to Ohio, Penn­sylvania, New York, Ten­nes­see and Florida for work in nuclear plants or other facilities.

Though Wall said he enjoyed traveling, life on the road wasn’t conducive to supporting and raising a family. So when a physical at SRS revealed diabetes and led to him getting laid off at the site for a second time, Wall tried a new profession.

“I sold cars for a little while because I didn’t want to be on the road,” said Wall, who worked for about a year at a dealership near Aiken. “I loved it, but the thing was when you’re a car salesman, you might make $100 this week and $700 the next week. I just didn’t like that inconsistency.”

In 1989, Wall returned to SRS and spent 19 years as a foreman working in asbestos abatement and serving as union steward.

Wall stepped down from that position, as mandated by law, after he became business manager for the local union of heat and frost insulators and allied workers, in which he helps 63 members across North Carolina and South Carolina in addition to Richmond and Columbia counties find work.

“Working out there on site for 19 years and being a supervisor out there – even though I cared about what I did and I made sure my guys did what they were supposed to do – I was bored with it,” he said. “This is a challenge.”

Wall also took on the post of council president for the local building trades group about a month ago. He was involved with the organization as vice president before.

Wall assists nearly 3,000 electricians, carpenters, pipe fitters, insulators and other building or construction trade workers doing projects with Plant Vogtle, Sa­van­nah River Nuclear So­lu­t­ions and Sa­vannah River Re­me­dia­tion.

“He’s dedicated,” said Will Salters, who works with Wall as the council’s secretary and treasurer. “He’s well-respected. He’s fair. He’s firm.”

Wall’s dedication starts at 4 a.m. Monday through Thursday when he wakes for work. During the evenings and on weekends, he typically carves out time for union business.

“You manage it,” Wall said. “You spend a good amount of time on the telephone.”

His wife, Deborah, is a neonatal nurse at Georgia Re­gents Medical Center, so they juggle their schedules to be at home for the grandchildren.

“Sometimes I’m the one that’s got to get home and cook dinners for the kids and all of that,” Wall said.

Wall said his passion, and a lot of patience, is what keeps him going.

He’s also proud of the programs his unions are associated with, such as Helmets to Hardhats, which helps military personnel find training and employment opportunities. The building trades council also collects about 13,000 toys a year for the Toys for Tots Foundation, Wall said.

“We’re kind of like a family because we all have to deal with a lot of the same issues,” he said. “We do have that bond. The thing I like most about what I do is the fact that I can find one of my guys something pretty quick where he’s not out of work. To me, being able to put those guys to work is most rewarding.”

JOHN WALL JR.

TITLE: President of the Augusta Building and Construction Trades Coun­cil; business manager for the Local 92 International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators and Allied Workers

BORN: Nov. 5, 1957, in Augusta

FAMILY: Wife Deborah; daughters Diana Holmes and Samantha Wall; two grandchildren

HOBBIES: Lake activities, fishing, golf


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