President's Corner


August 2020 Stability Through the Storm

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President’s Corner

Brothers and Sisters,

Since the pandemic began to impact our lives in mid-March, we’ve all had to learn new ways to manage our day-to-day routines while we deal with the inability to predict what the future holds. In the opening days and weeks, we all had theories on how long it would last, but six months in, I think we can all agree that there is no clear way to judge when the restrictions and uncertainty will finally dissipate. We should all be focused on several important things in order to ensure that no matter the timeline of COVID-19, we have taken control of the things that we are able to control. The two that are most present in my mind as I write this are voting and training.

Everybody has had enough of politics, believe me, I understand. Wherever you fall on the political spectrum – and Local 150 members fall everywhere – listening to the finger-pointing and blame on a daily basis has numbed us all to the point that it is hard to stay engaged in a meaningful way. The problem is that in uncertain times, politics becomes more important than ever to our livelihoods, and so this is a time that we cannot turn ourselves off to the importance of the decisions that are to be made over the coming months.

Instead of getting caught up in the constant fighting about issues that both sides play up to vilify each other, I am challenging you to look at politics simply as it affects your ability to work, and to do that work for wages and benefits that can maintain your family’s standard of life. Rather than turning yourself off out of exhaustion from trying to understand competing claims that change from one day to the next, commit to voting your paycheck.

This election is not only for the highest office in the land, but also the decision-makers at county and state levels. Those offices may not be a hot topic of conversation with your friends or co-workers, but you cannot underestimate their impact on your employment. County and state officials have enormous power to approve or reject the projects that put operating engineers to work.

As I write this, a $1.3 billion natural gas power plant has received approval and financing in Grundy County. Large projects like this depend on support from local elected officials to approve permits and various other critical pieces of these projects, and the power plant is exactly the type of job-creating development that sustains trades workers during a downturn like the one that is being predicted for next year.

More importantly, we have to be able to count on those local officials to stand up for local workers as plans for these projects are coming together. In Grundy County, building trades representatives had a seat at the table since day one. As you know, we are active in promoting responsible bidder ordinances throughout our jurisdiction as a way of ensuring that when large projects come into a community, the impact upon that community’s workforce is a primary consideration. Some local officials jump at the opportunity to protect and involve their workers, and others do not. This is an easy way to see whether a local leader is worker-friendly, and as you can imagine, we take it into account when it comes to our candidate endorsements.

Let’s also not forget the massive infrastructure investments that we have seen emerge from state legislatures in Indiana and Illinois over the past three years. These plans started with us and came to fruition because we had like-minded representatives – people we elected, that is – who supported our efforts and voted them into reality.

Over the years, I have said many times that our political strategy at Local 150 is fairly simple at its core: we support candidates who are opposed to “right-to-work” laws, who protect prevailing wages and responsible bidder ordinances, and who are committed to responsible, long-term infrastructure investment. Some of the candidates we support wear red ties, and some wear blue ties. Some are liberal, some are conservative, and most fall somewhere in the middle. They may hold different opinions of any number of social issues, but our job in politics is to protect your interests both during and after your career, so we stay focused on the issues that affect your career when we endorse candidates.

In the weeks to come, you’re going to receive mail from the union with a list of our endorsed candidates in the upcoming election, and I want you to consider these endorsements when you vote. We take the endorsement process very seriously, and the candidates that we present to you are the men and women who we believe will best serve your interests at work. We go through an extensive process to examine the candidates in these races, and in those where there is a clear “best choice,” that candidate makes our list.

On top of that, we will be sending members across our jurisdiction applications to receive absentee ballots by mail. Our goal is to make sure that every single one of you has the opportunity to vote without worrying about your health or safety, and absentee voting is something we have promoted for more than a decade. I can’t say whether you will get stuck working a 12-hour shift on Election Day or whether a local breakout of COVID-19 or long lines at the polls will impact your ability to go vote, but getting it done early through the mail is a good way to ensure that you don’t get caught making a tough decision on whether to vote.

We are making these efforts well in advance of the election so that we can be sure that everyone who wants to cast a ballot by mail can do so with plenty of time for the ballot to be received. States’ requirements to vote absentee through the mail vary, and the materials we send out will have more information. We have also set up resources including endorsements, early voting, and absentee voting information on our website at www.

Before I move on, I want to pay tribute to James “Big Jim” Thompson, former Republican Governor of Illinois, who passed away in August. Thompson was a man who personified so many of the good qualities that I laid out in this article about public servants who recognize the value of workers. He was a Republican Governor who pioneered the use of project labor agreements in Illinois, including on the Illinois Tollway. He was also a dear friend of former President-Business Manager Bill Dugan, appointing him to the Illinois Development Finance Authority, and supporting his future appointment to the Illinois Toll Highway Authority Board, which I can attest is a position where it is valuable for us to share our insight and expertise.

When former Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar-Topinka passed away in 2014, her memorial service was held at Local 150’s District 1 Hall. At that time, Governor Bruce Rauner had just taken office, and it would be fair to say that it was uncomfortable for him to be within the walls of our union hall. In his remarks at the memorial, Thompson told Governor Rauner that “Local 150 was here long before you came, and they will be here long after you have gone.” Thompson was a friend to Local 150’s members for many years, and our condolences go out to his family.

In addition to voting in the election, I want to urge all members to consider taking up some additional training in the off-season this year. Our training season won’t look much like any other in our past, but the circumstances don’t change the fact that members need to train in the winter, and we are working on plans to provide as much as we can while staying compliant with the law and health authority guidelines.

Our field training has capacity limits, any classroom education would have to be done very carefully with strict social distancing, and most of our training doesn’t translate to Zoom calls, but this is an extremely important season to assess how your skills match the expected workload for the upcoming year.

Infrastructure work is going to remain strong across our jurisdiction next year. Roads, bridges, and utility work should not slow down as much as sectors like retail and multi-unit residential buildings. If there is equipment that you have been thinking of getting trained on, don’t let it wait. Both as individuals and as an organization, our resilience to economic hiccups is found in our unmatched level of skill. The more equipment you are capable of operating, the more you will work, and the less a shaky economy will impact you and your family.

The trajectory of the next couple of months is beyond prediction, but if we set ourselves up to be successful regardless of the things that remain outside our control, we will always land in a good place. I remain optimistic that we are in as strong a position as we could possibly be. There is more infrastructure work lined up than there has ever been, with funding to keep it coming. We have many lawmakers in our jurisdiction who support us and what we stand for, and if we can speak out against those who are threatening our rights and our livelihood, we will get through this patch just as we always do – a stronger union with stronger bonds to one another.

United We Stand, Divided We Fall.