President's Corner

 

December 2020 Positive Outlook for Labor

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President’s Corner

Brothers and Sisters,

While many of the larger projects in our area are continuing through the winter, many projects have idled for the next few months, leaving members home until warmer weather returns. This is a time of year when we begin to look ahead at the work that will employ members in the coming year, and it is also a time that the staff focuses on the hard work of protecting our jurisdiction.

On the upcoming work front, I will reserve the majority for next month’s State of the Union report, but I do have some very positive news to share. On December 16th, the Illinois Tollway approved a $1.53 billion budget for its 2021 capital program.

This is the tenth year of the Tollway’s “Move Illinois” capital plan, and the budget for the upcoming year is the largest yet. This program has been a godsend in Illinois during stretches of time when state-funded infrastructure work has at times dried to a trickle. As a Director on the Tollway’s Board, I have advocated for large investments each year, and I expect that the coming year’s budget should set the bar for years to come.

In 2021, $690 million will be allocated to the continuing reconstruction of the Interstate 294 Tri-State Tollway, and $451 million will go toward the new Interstate 490 expressway, which will connect Interstate 294 with Interstate 90 and a new entrance to the O’Hare International Airport.

These are massive projects that will continue to create meaningful employment for our members for years to come, and front-loading the budgets to create a surge of work now is important, as work in other sectors is uncertain for next year. If the new administration in Washington is as serious about a federal infrastructure funding plan as it has pledged to be, we may be able to stack up a few solid years of road and bridge work. I expect that I will have more to report on that in next month’s column as well.

As we look ahead to new work, we must also be vigilant when it comes to the public work being let throughout our jurisdiction. Public bodies of all sizes, from large cities to small library districts, let taxpayer-funded projects throughout the year, and the majority of them are protected by prevailing wage laws or responsible bidder ordinances (RBOs). Despite the solid relationships that we maintain with the municipalities in our area, Local 150 will always subscribe to the “trust but verify” philosophy.

We enjoy a strong partnership with the Indiana-Illinois-Iowa Foundation for Fair Contracting (FFC), whose construction monitors do an incredible job of verifying that municipalities follow applicable laws when they let construction work. Local 150’s business representatives are able to work hand-in-hand with the construction monitors if issues arise, whether it is in protecting our signatory contractors from losing bids to irresponsible contractors or turning around work in municipalities whose knowledge of the law is lacking. In any case, this partnership resulted in thousands of jobs for Local 150 members over the years, and a new tool in the arsenal will only enhance our efforts.

At its December Board of Directors meeting, the FFC showcased the latest set of reports from its new database-driven market share analysis software. This invaluable software uses automation to take an enormous amount of administrative work out of the hands of staff members. By linking up with another technology partner, this software is automatically updated with all public construction lettings, so instead of trying to keep track of where the work is, our staff can now focus its efforts on making sure that municipalities are compliant.

We have tagged municipalities where we have RBOs in order to ensure that they are being followed. This is especially important in Indiana and Iowa, which do not have state prevailing wage laws. While some larger public projects in those states are protected by the federal Davis-Bacon prevailing wage law, we rely on RBOs to set a standard for the kind of responsible contracting guidelines that protect local workers and deliver the most safe and efficient product for the taxpayers who fund these projects.

This software is able to export heat maps of non-union activity and identify growing non-union contractors so that our staff is able to be targeted in our response. I am an old-school guy, but on occasion, I will get on board with technology that makes it easier and more efficient for us to do our jobs, and having our organizers engaging non-union contractors instead of poring through job lettings to figure out where projects are being awarded is an easy sell for me.

Finally, this software keeps a real-time tally on our union market share percentage by district, state, industry, and a host of other metrics. Other regions, including once-strong union areas like Manhattan, have seen their market share plummet in the last decade, and we have once again been the exception to the rule.

Our market share isn’t as high as it is because we are lucky, and it sure isn’t because the non-union competition isn’t there. Our market share is strong because we get up every morning and do our jobs. As Bill Dugan used to say, “If you ain’t got your jurisdiction, you ain’t got nothin.’” Truer words were never spoken, and this has been my guiding principle since coming on staff in 1986. I know reading about software may not be the most exciting thing in the world, but you can take my word that this is a game-changer that is going to protect our members’ work for years to come.

On a closing note, we recently completed a holiday season that capped off a very strange year. We all celebrated a little bit differently than in years past, but with COVID-19’s impact on certain industries, many of our members faced financial hardships that made it difficult to enjoy the holidays with their families.

At the December meeting of Local 150’s Executive Board, we directed the Local 150 Food Bank to provide a $250 grocery store gift card to each member who had worked fewer than 1,000 hours over the past year. While this was not a banner year for most members, Local 150 is not the kind of union that lets its members go without a meal around the holidays. It was a somber moment for the Executive Board, but the responses that we received from the families that were impacted were truly humbling. Moments like those, where we stand together to help the Brothers and Sisters who need it, are what really define Local 150, and we should all be proud to be a part of it.

United We Stand, Divided We Fall.