Sheet Metal Workers Local 5

Building Trades

2011 National Legislative Conference

Brothers and Sisters…Ladies and Gentlemen…
We convene this conference during what is arguably the most critical moment in history for America’s Building Trades Unions and for all of organized labor. Not only are we continuing to struggle against an enduring economic downturn that has devastated our ranks.
But, to add insult to injury, we are also fighting against what can only be labeled as an all-out assault by the radical right-wing against unions across America.
These are difficult times. Yet, they are also times of great opportunity.
The national conversation that is currently taking place about unions in America presents us with a rare opening to tell our side of the story to a wide audience of our fellow citizens.
Also on the bright side is the fact that the economy seems to be moving steadily toward recovery. The unemployment rate for the construction industry has been consistently dropping over the course of the first few months of this year.
In fact, March was the sixth consecutive month in which construction unemployment has been lower than the corresponding month from a year ago.
Additionally, we are finally starting to see an influx of fresh capital into U.S. commercial real estate, which is bringing some long-stalled commercial development projects back to life.
While this is all good news, it is not happening nearly fast enough to reduce the pressure and stress for many thousands of our members and their families who are struggling to make ends meet.
But at least the trends are encouraging.
The same cannot be said, however, about some of the dark clouds on the horizon – which have absolutely NOTHING to do with the economy!
Brothers and Sisters, whether we like it or not we have been pulled into a brutal struggle in America. And it’s a struggle for the very soul of our nation and our democracy.
The attacks we see today on unions all across America are being instigated by an ultra-radical conservative movement. Yes, their initial focus is to shred public employee unions under the guise of fiscal responsibility; but make no mistake about it their real purpose is the eradication of ALL unions from the American landscape.
That is why all unions must come together as ONE to fight these right-wing assaults on our unions.
Because if we let them succeed, more and more Americans will be left behind in an economy that is ever more starkly divided between the haves and the have-nots.
Employer-based pensions, paid vacations, health benefits…and the fundamental right of workers to have a voice on the job…are going the way of phone booths and VCRs.
American workers who enjoy any sort of job security or retirement security are being viewed with increasing contempt.
The attitude seems to be: How dare these union people enjoy any measure of economic security?
That, brothers and sisters is why we must come together as never before and let the world know that WE ARE ONE.
Union busting and social destabilization should not…and will not… be tolerated in a country with as much wealth as the United States.
It’s destructive, and it’s wrong.
And, TOGETHER, we intend to stop it!
Ironically, the labor movement has been searching for years for a spark to ignite a conversation about the role of unions in America; and now that spark has kindled a political wildfire in our nation.
Clearly, this was not a fight that we went looking for…but like our union brothers and sisters before’s a fight from which WE WILL NOT RETREAT!
And let me be crystal clear on this:
We do not intend to let these anti-union, radical, right wingers win this war!!!
Brothers and Sisters, here’s what we are facing.
The radical worldview that is hell-bent on purging America of our unions believes in individual responsibility alone. They reject the fundamental American notion of citizens looking after their fellow citizens.
The radical right DOES NOT believe that government should ever help its people…unless, of course, those citizens just happen to be their wealthy political benefactors who are clamoring for more subsidies or tax cuts.
But things like prevailing wage laws, project labor agreements, trade adjustment assistance programs and safety standards are easily put on the chopping block.
Because they are actually designed to protect and assist middle class working America!
In the twisted world of Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin, and Governor John Kasich in Ohio…as well as Fox News in general…there should not be a middle class to protect!
The disturbing truth is that, politically, these conservatives now have the wherewithal to accomplish their goals. Today anti-union conservatives have as many elected lawmakers at the federal, state and local level than at any point since 1928.
Twenty-two state legislative chambers changed majority control in the 2010 election cycle - all in the direction of the GOP.
But as we are seeing all across the nation, these are a different breed of Republican. They are certainly NOT like Republican President Dwight Eisenhower who, in 1954, had this to say about unions in America, and I quote:
“Unions have a secure place in our industrial life. Only a handful of reactionaries harbor the ugly thought of breaking unions…and depriving working men and women of the right to join the union of their choice.”
For over 50 years, Americans of all political stripes instinctively understood the value of labor unions in America.
On this day of April 4th, we are reminded of Dr. Martin Luther King’s legacy. He understood the power of the labor movement to affect social and economic change in America.
He once remarked, and I quote:
"The labor movement was the principal force that transformed misery and despair…into hope and progress. Out of its bold struggles…economic and social reform gave birth to unemployment insurance…old-age pensions…government relief for the destitute…and, above all…new wage levels that meant not mere survival but a tolerable life.”
Now, If a strong labor movement is so good for middle-class standards of living…
and for the Democratic Party…then we have to be concerned about what has been, up until recently, a sense of ambivalence on the part of too many Democrats toward the concerns of labor.
Sure, they are jumping on the bandwagon now that many state governors have declared war on labor unions. But it’s fair to ask where the Hell have they been the last three years…not to mention the last 30 years?!
I think many of us would agree that, in recent years, we have been viewed by some within the Democratic Party as nothing more than a source of funds and votes. Just imagine, if the Employee Free Choice Act had been a higher priority, and had been adopted in early 2009.
We could have spent the past two-and-a-half years organizing and mobilizing millions of American workers, instead of waging these defensive battles in state after state!
If Democrats and other progressive forces want to turn this nation around, they must openly embrace unions as the centerpiece of that movement!
No more dithering. No more “fair weather” political friends.
Like they say on ESPN: Come on, man!"
Unions aren’t just good for workers and working families. Unions are good for America! And it’s high time for our would-be political friends at all levels…especially those who claim an interest in our declining middle-class…
Brothers and sisters, the Building Trades have a compelling message for our industry and for our communities. One of the most potent weapons we have in our arsenal right now is the persuasive 21st century story of America’s Building Trades Unions.
Put simply, our story is centered on the idea of value and quality that has become a major part of our Building Trades culture for well over a decade now.
And that cultural change…which is becoming increasingly noticed by many within our industry…only happened because of the leadership of everyone in this room today, combined with the vision of the leaders who sit on this dais.
But our story certainly doesn’t stop there.
Because the labor-management approach that we have initiated is also reflected in the innovative agreements that increasingly are utilized in both the public and private sectors.
Project labor agreements and community workforce agreements are cases in point.
The reason that we are seeing so many punitive attacks on PLAs is quite simple. It’s because we are establishing an unassailable track record of success. In 2010 alone, over 150 public and private PLAs were negotiated and put into service.
These agreements have a total value of about $100 billion dollars – which is remarkable considering we are in the midst of one of the most severe industry depressions in history.
And now, we have even more ammunition.
I recently received a letter from Tetsuo Agata, the President of Toyota Motor Corporation on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the construction of Toyota’s first North American manufacturing facility which was built under a PLA in Georgetown, Kentucky.
In his letter, Mr. Agata did not mince any words. He explained how the PLAs that have covered the construction of each and every one of Toyota’s North American plants have, and I quote: “…proven to be a valuable tool to meet Toyota’s economical and efficient construction process.”
Now that, brothers and sisters, is a story worth talking about!
And it’s because PLAs work!!!
Here’s another example. The U.S. House of Representatives…which today is probably more conservative than it has been in the last 50 years…recently rejected attempts to prohibit PLAs on federal projects and to repeal the federal Davis-Bacon Act.
26 Republicans joined us in defeating the anti-PLA amendment…while 48 Republicans saw fit to help defeat one Davis-Bacon repeal effort.
And just last week, we fought another attempt at repealing Davis-Bacon – and this time we garnered the support of over 50 Republicans!
Brothers and sisters, our victories did not happen by accident.
No, they are the product of large bipartisan majorities recognizing that the fundamental, underlying principles that define both prevailing wage laws and project labor agreements are mainstream American values.
Further, these votes reflect how America’s Building Trades Unions will work with, and support anyone, who promotes common sense solutions and defends high-road community standards in the construction industry regardless of political party affiliation.
We must express our thanks to all Republican and Democratic Members of Congress who supported us, for having the courage to separate fact from fiction.
They took the time to understand that a prosperous American middle class is so very critical for a healthy society and a healthy democracy.
We all know how important PLAs are, and we also know how important The Davis-Bacon Act is to our very existence. Davis-Bacon is our core… our DNA… it defines who and what we are and what we believe in, which is centered upon decent wages and fringe benefits for our members and for all who toil in the construction industry.
America’s Building Trades Unions have fought tooth and nail legislatively to protect the Davis-Bacon Act against repeal, and against amendments intended to weaken it.
And I can give you my word that Mark Ayers, Sean McGarvey and this Governing Board of Presidents will continue that fight… SO HELP US GOD!!!
Brothers and sisters, there are some who would turn our appreciation for those Republican lawmakers who stand by us into a political issue. I would simply remind those who criticize us of the words spoken a generation ago by AFL-CIO President George Meany…
President Meany said, and I quote: “We have a lot to do with the Democratic Party…but we don’t run the Democratic Party. And they don’t run us!”
Brothers and sisters, nobody in this room believes we are perfect…nor should we EVER think that way. In fact, like many corporations and organizations today, our unions have adopted the mindset that if we are not constantly innovating and improving…then we are simply moving backwards.
Now more than ever…it is critically important for us to engage key stakeholders within our industry and among federal, state and local lawmakers, and impress upon them the detailed nature of our brand proposition: “Value on Display… Every Day.”
Many of you are already doing this.
I have heard stories and anecdotes from many of you who have actually invited local elected officials out to a JATC facility, and then hearing those folks say something to the effect of: “I had no idea this is what you all do!”
Brothers and sisters…this is our ace in the hole.
It is similar to our historical commitment to the rational center when it comes to politics. Ours is a business model that is centered upon seeking cooperation and common ground with our industry and political partners to develop innovations and solutions that benefit everyone.
And on that score, we are more in tune with the central thinking of the vast majority of the American people who are sick and tired of the incessant drumbeat of conflict and caricature, and are instead seeking cooperation and solutions that lead to shared prosperity for ALL Americans…and not just the privileged few!
So, when you depart for home this week, please remain focused on finding ever more compelling ways to tell our story. This is important, because while our story has not changed, our ability to tell that story through a multitude of outlets certainly has.
That’s the impetus behind the WE Party Patriots blog…which I encourage you to visit at least once a day.
The explosion of Internet-based communications tools like Facebook and Twitter represent new and exciting opportunities for us to present an unfiltered, and unedited, version of our story that we cannot afford to waste.
Now, I would be derelict in my duties if I did not address today the continuing struggle with the United Brotherhood of Carpenters.
The Governing Board of Presidents has funded and approved initiatives for use by local and state councils to engage the Carpenters in targeted geographic areas and these initiatives are being formulated to meet the specific needs of each council.
Some of the Councils have already deployed some of these initiatives…while others are collaborating with Secretary-Treasurer McGarvey and a Committee comprised of representatives from each affiliated union to confront the Carpenter in their areas.
The Governing Board of Presidents has directed Sean and the Committee to assist any and all councils who are prepared to go on the offensive in dealing with the UBC problem in those areas where such problems exist.
But please understand…this requires “every oar in the water” on the local council level in order to succeed.
The Building Trades Department will always hold open the door for the Carpenters possible return, but the Governing Board of Presidents has made it clear that they are obligated to assist any and all trades and councils whose work jurisdiction and very existence are under assault.
And as I stand here today, please be assured that we will stand by you and with you in this battle.
This is OUR Building Trades… and we must stand together to protect it.
And protect it we will!
In closing, let me say this:
In these times of dark and confrontational rhetoric that constantly bubbles forth from the extreme left and the extreme right, we need to be the voice of the rational center.
As for those who are Hell-bent on seeking the destruction of our unions…
well, I would encourage them to study a little history.
Specifically, the events of that fateful day on December 7th, 1941 after the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. They should recall the words of Japanese Admiral Yamamoto after he heard the news of the successful raid on the U.S. fleet in Hawaii.
Admiral Yamamoto did not celebrate upon hearing the news. Rather, he stood stone-faced and remarked to an aide, and I quote:
"I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve."
Brothers and sisters…
the resolve of America’s Building Trades Unions from this moment forward will be to impress upon owners and contractors, as well as reasonable and rational elected leaders, that our nation has work to do….and that our unions are uniquely equipped to help do that work.
But, for those that continue to spoil for a fight…
But our main desire is to impress upon this great nation, that we have the opportunity to create a NEW AMERICA every morning when we wake up.
America’s Building Trades Unions choose to see an America not in a setting of despair and conflict…where cynical and diabolical interests continue to turn worker against worker. No, our unions see an America where every man, woman and child has a chance to share in our nation’s wealth; to hold a good paying job and have a pension and health care.
We see great days ahead for our unions and our nation.
And these great days are only possible when men and women of vision and a cooperative spirit come together in a common purpose.
That is our vision; and that is our quest. And we will not let any detractors stand in our way.
The great American singer/songwriter Kris Kristofferson once said, and I quote:
I just gotta wonder what my daddy would’ve done…
if he’d seen the way they’d turned his dream around…
I gotta go by what he told me…
which is to try to tell the truth and stand your ground…
Brothers and sisters, the tools of conquest and oppression do not necessarily come with bombs and explosions. They are sometimes forged through thoughts, attitudes, and prejudices that can only be found in the minds of men and women.
For the record, prejudices can kill, and suspicion can destroy. And a thoughtless, frightened search for a scapegoat…like that which is happening all across this great nation today…exerts a lasting damage all its own.
But if we stay the course and commit to our belief in “Building a Better America… One Project at a Time.”…and if we make a concerted effort to tell our story to all who will listen…then there is no way in Hell that they will EVER KEEP US DOWN!!
Thank you…and may God bless America’s Building Trades Unions!

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