Brothers and Sisters…Ladies and Gentlemen.
It is my great privilege to welcome you to the 68th convention
of the Building and Construction Trades Department.
We are proud to hold this convention in the great state of Minnesota. You have a rich labor heritage that gave us the Knights of Labor and the Democrat Farm Labor Party, as well as three stalwart politicians who held the organized labor movement close to their hearts: Hubert Humphrey, Walter Mondale and Paul Wellstone.
As we gather here this week in the Twin Cities we look to the future with great hope and enthusiasm, while also acknowledging that there exists tremendous anxiety within our ranks across both of our nations, and throughout the world.
And while this horrid situation is certainly not of our own doing, it is our reality nonetheless.
Earlier this year, at both the American Legislative Conference and the Canadian Policy Conference, I proclaimed that “putting our members back to work” was our Number One priority; and that the Building and Construction Trades Department would explore every avenue and every conceivable method and approach that would help us achieve that objective.
Today, unfortunately, nothing has changed.
Getting our members back onto jobsites across North America continues to be our Number One priority.
So, my task today in speaking to all of you; and our collective task from this day forward will be to place our movement on a firm path towards future growth and success.
The key to our success will be predicated upon a simple concept that is central to all human beings. And that is our continued embrace of the power of cooperation and partnership and the ability to establish and nurture relationships. And that includes the relationships among ourselves and our unions, as well as the critical partnerships that we have with industry groups; with construction owners and contractors; with community-based organizations; and with public officials.
These partnerships are vital for us to succeed in convincing lawmakers and policymakers in both Canada and the United States to support and enact the needed investments and policies that will create and sustain the job opportunities that our members so desperately need and position our unions and our industry
for favorable growth in the future.
I know all of us in this room today are painfully aware of the many problems our movement incurred in the past. Problems that caused us to lose market share.
They were the by-product of our inability – and in some cases, our flat-out refusal – to accept the notion that cooperation, partnerships and relationships – were the key to protecting and enhancing our market share.
So, as we attempt to re-establish ourselves as the preeminent force in the
North American construction industry we must remain focused and vigilant to keep those attributes as the driving force for both our actions and our attitudes.
Value on Display… Every Day. It’s not just a slogan, it’s a way of life for us now.
And Pride, Performance, and Professionalism? That is not just a convention theme, It’s who we are and what we do.
Our goal is, and always should be, to be hitting on all cylinders, ALL THE TIME!
Because, brothers and sisters, the time has long since passed when we could simply HOPE that our jobs were models of success and not cultures for failure.
Today and tomorrow, our task will be to GUARANTEE without hesitation that our jobs are models for success. Every hour, of every day, on every job. Nothing less will be acceptable. And nothing less should be tolerated. Failure to do so will be our demise.
I am pleased to report that today we are achieving success because of our collective embrace of a new way of life for the union construction industry. We have had considerable success in developing new industry partnerships that are leading to new job opportunities for our members. And we accomplish that by delivering an uncompromised value proposition.
We have built relationships with the American Petroleum Institute, the pharmaceutical industry, the National Petroleum Refiners Association, the electrical utility industry, as well as the nuclear industry.
We also have a formal cooperative agreement with the Native American
Tribal Councils and the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs that is expected
to generate over 400 billion dollars of work on or near reservations.
None of these relationships existed three years ago and we are just getting started; because they do, indeed, produce dividends. And we fully intend to build on those successes and nurture those relationships in the belief that when we develop newfound “advocates,” we open the doors for additional partnerships with other industry sectors.
Additionally, these relationships assist our ability to influence public policy on both sides of the border, where the combined strengths and resources of these industry/labor/ management alliances are necessary to overcome a reactionary, conservative, politically-oriented, “Just Say NO” strategy.
And it is this destructive and misguided attitude that is, sadly, working to stunt job opportunities for our members.
With time, we know that we will eventually prevail over these destructive forces. But for now time is a luxury that our contractors and our members simply DO NOT have.
Direct intervention by our federal governments in creating jobs is, unquestionably, necessary. And again, this is where our commitment to developing cooperative partnerships with various industries can pay dividends.
We have been successful in the United States in prompting the federal government to become increasingly aggressive in their use of “loan guarantees” for major projects – such as nuclear construction – where credit is difficult to come by.
We are also pursuing policies that would provide construction financing through specialized government banks for job creating initiatives, such as infrastructure repair and improvement – much like our brothers and sisters in Canada have achieved.
And until such time as confidence is once again instilled in our financial markets, the Building and Construction Trades Department will actively and aggressively pursue public sector construction as a means to create the jobs that are so desperately needed now.
If there was ever a strong case for the government to take prudent action to spur job creation, it is summed up in the following statistic:
“Corporate profits in America today are at $1.2 TRILLION annually, which now exceed the profits that were being made at the height of the recent bubble.”
Profits are soaring… yet job growth is almost non-existent. And worse, is the growing evidence that our governing elites don’t seem to give a damn. Without bold new thinking and action, we are in danger of entering an era where a once-unimaginable level of economic agony becomes the new normal for our members.
Ladies and gentlemen, Brothers and Sisters, in spite of everything that we see around us, this is not a time for hopelessness. Our job is to build hope, because, believe it or not, there is hope. But that hope will only translate into tangible opportunities when we first alter the prevailing mindset that suggests that it is more important to care about the taxes of the richest one percent among us rather than the plight of working Americans and Canadians who cannot find jobs.
Our second task in building hope is to consistently demonstrate the value of our competitive advantages. As I said before, we must ensure that every task, every program, every policy, and every action we undertake, must be conceived through the prism of making each and every one of our jobs a model for success, not cultures for failure.
To that end, we must engage with our contractor and owner partners like never before. And we have to understand that being a union contractor entails a difficult business model in today’s construction industry.
Traditionally, when our contractors won a bid on a very competitive project they have had to hold their breath with the hope that the productivity and performance of our members on the job would bring positive results. Our signatory partners take the greatest risk with large outlays of capital combined with slim profit margins.
Innovation. Productivity. Cooperation. Mutual respect, and quality work must be the formula that carries the day and which will ensure success for our contractors.
But we must also get contractors to understand OUR needs and OUR concerns. Specifically, we need to educate our contractors, as well as owners, to come to grips with the fact that the continued development of a quality skilled craft professional workforce is dependent upon making such careers financially rewarding.
It’s time for contractors and owners to “ante up”
Now, while I am on the subject of contractors, there is another aspect to the whole success equation that we must tackle head on. And that is the whole question of the non-union sector.
While we will never shy away from calling out the non-union sector for the advancement of a disturbing and costly “low road” business model, let us also not delude ourselves into thinking that we are the only ones capable of successfully building a project. And, in truth, that capability is centered upon the fact that there is talent among the open-shop’s workforce.
We need to get serious about establishing a relationship with those workers and extend a hand of friendship to them along with information pertaining to a brighter and more rewarding future, and what it can do for their lives, and what it can do for their careers and their families.
When we focus so much on moving forward and out of the current economic rut that we find ourselves in today it can be easy to forget about the past. But, in our case, understanding the lessons, practices and behaviors of the past that inherently caused us to lose so much market share are critical to our achieving success in the future.
For thirty years, we witnessed some of our industry partners abandon us because we could not get our act together when it came to such things as: jurisdictional disputes, work stoppages, absenteeism, and collective bargaining deadlocks and strikes.
And speaking of not being able to get our act together, we have the continuing issue of the UBC and their on-going and increased efforts to raid the work of other crafts.
Our Governing Board of Presidents has established a committee to develop a strategy to deal with this issue. And as president of the Building and Construction Trades Department, I am firmly committed to leaving the door open, to both the Operating Engineers and the Carpenters, to one day rejoin our family.
But, let me be as clear as I can. No one can, and no one will, tolerate or condone what the Carpenters have done, and continue to do.
The committee is exploring all options to address this problem. And you have
my word that whatever measures are adopted by the committee and the Board will be executed by this Department and its affiliates to their fullest extent.
It is sad and unfortunate that we are being forced to expend precious resources fighting the misguided vision being advocated by the leadership of one union.
And it certainly does not help our cause in these trying times to compound the mistakes of the past.
Because today, I see a new generation of leaders that are passionately committed to a vision and a mindset that is hell-bent on finding new and innovative ways to demonstrate the value of union construction and, by extension, refusing to commit the mistakes of the past in order to confront these problems head-on.
I am proud to witness this embrace of a new culture within the unionized construction world that will not only enable us to SUCCEED in a merit-based world, but enable us to THRIVE like never before.
You and I know all too well that there are no guarantees in our industry. If we truly are what we say we are, we get to come back the next day and the next day after that.
That’s it. That’s our bottom line.
Our unions have created competitive advantages through the investment of billions and billions of PRIVATE dollars in the world’s most admired and envied skilled craft training infrastructure. And that training is coupled with no-nonsense jobsite codes of conduct and accountability measures.
The end result is that today the men and women who make up North America’s Building Trades Unions are earning the approval and respect of the owners and contractors for whom we have worked and continue to work, while also steadily building respect and admiration in the communities in which we live and work.
From this day forward, we will always be on the lookout for innovative ways
to improve our product and improve our relationships with our partners.
That was a fundamental principle behind the establishment, in 2006, of the Building Trades National Drug & Alcohol Program, which provides a pre-qualified, drug-free workforce to our customers.
And it is the genesis for our continuing partnership with CPWR – the Center for Construction Research and Training – which has been a critical and effective means to trumpet many new advances in safety and health research, as well as construction training.
The Department has also established a tripartite committee made up of members of the General Presidents’ Committee, the Associated Maintenance Contractors, and major power companies, to address problems and find cost effective solutions for the electric utility industry.
Our commitment to industry partnerships has also led to the institution of “single source” contract maintenance in industrial plants.
Additionally, we are continuing to seek the cooperation of maintenance user groups and industrial owners in scheduling shutdowns and power outages to ease the huge manpower spikes that require great numbers of skilled workers for short periods of time.
I am also pleased to report that all of our international unions are working to improve their referral systems particularly in documenting the availability of skilled and experienced construction and maintenance workers who are willing to travel to specific areas when shortages do occur.
And I would be remiss if I did not comment on the excellent work that continues to be done by the “Helmets to Hardhats” program. In the last year alone, CNN, NBC and Fox News have each aired reports highlighting the successes of the program. Since 2009, Helmets to Hardhats was involved with over 1,000 successful transitions from the military to the building trades.
The Helmets to Hardhats program does more than extend a hand; it is making the dreams of thousands of Military service members a reality, and it is more than deserving of our continued and active support.
The Helmets to Hardhats program is a shining example of how our unions are putting their best foot forward to make a difference in peoples’ lives. Unfortunately, today’s political climate is not in sync with those types of values and endeavors. We still have a significant number of political “leaders” – not to mention an ever-growing horde of media personalities and self-proclaimed “experts” – who choose to simply ignore many of the core problems that got us in such dire straits in the first place.
In America, there are many who do it out of political spite; in the sense that if they oppose or defeat anything and everything that Barack Obama proposes they will be in a better position politically.
But thankfully, in both of our nations we still have an abundance of leaders who believe that with hard work, cooperation and partnership, a better day for all is just over the horizon.
There are a lot of unsung leaders like that. I know them and so do you. In fact, I am looking at a whole roomful of them right here.
Brothers and Sisters… never forget that the work we do turns peoples’ collective fortunes around. The work we do can and DOES make life better in our two nations. In fact, in some instances, it saves lives.
But right now, we are simply trying to get the train back on the tracks. We have to do our best to get people to unite once again around the fundamental and proper role for government; which embraces the belief that a nation is a FAMILY, and where shared prosperity and economic security is the by-product of innovation, investment, opportunity, cooperation and productivity.
Today and tomorrow, our unions must adopt the role as protectors of our two nations’ families, and we must always recognize that at the heart of the matter
we are bound to one another. The problems of unemployed skilled professionals in Duluth or Edmonton are problems for us all. The hopeful future of an apprentice in either Buffalo or Saskatchewan is OUR future. And that the goals of Building Trades Council leaders from California to Prince Edward Island are everyone’s goals.
The needs of the past and the demands of the present exert a powerful pull on our attention, while the future usually doesn't have many advocates. Traditionally, the future was always viewed as something we could get to later. There was a time when we could get away with ignoring, or pushing our problems down the road. But, those days are long gone.
Today we must aggressively face the challenges of the present while internalizing the lessons of the past. We must embrace change that will create a brighter and secure future for our unions and our industry partners.
Brothers and Sisters, our success won’t be based on our ability to simply change. It will be based on our ability to change faster than our competition, and to anticipate, meet and exceed the needs and desires of our customers.
Let me remind all of you that we are born NOT to the blood of kings, but to the blood of pioneers and craftsmen and artisans. We are the salt of the Earth. The men and women of our ranks are people of great worth and reliable character.
Never forget that. In fact, take the time to remind them of that from time to time. They will be glad to hear it.
And when it comes to securing prosperity and security for all, remember that it WILL happen if WE make it happen.
And I ask you now, brothers and sisters, for the good of our unions, for the love of our two great nations, and for the love of God, to go forth from this convention with the determination to make sure that each of our nations is reminded about how successful futures can and should be built.
Thank you, and may God bless North America’s Building Trades Unions.