Brothers and Sisters,
In my last few columns, I have shared with you my optimism for the upcoming work season and for the strength of our union, despite the current rockiness of the national economy. The first month of dry weather this season has nearly emptied our halls and put apprentices, journeymen and even retirees to work; and even led us to open our operator apprenticeship application period early in District 6, where we are desperately in need of talent.
While we are in a great situation as far as work goes, we can never sit back and take a breather. We are always working to build a stronger future for the union. When members ask me what I expect will happen with the economy or work situation next year or the year after, I tell them that I am not in the prediction business. I am in the “plan and protect” business.
None of us can tell what tomorrow brings, which should be crystal clear to everyone after the challenges we’ve faced in the past two years. We need to work hard on what we can control, though, and that is exactly what we are doing. We are bringing in apprentices so that we can fill upcoming work with union hands. We are adapting our training curriculum to prepare apprentices and journey workers alike with the skills they need for the industries that should be booming. We are protecting our rights both on and off the job, and pushing for the Workers’ Rights Amendment in Illinois.
When times are hard, we work hard to make the future better. When times are good, we do the same thing. We never want to be in a situation where we look back and wish we had worked harder during the good times, so we never let up, and neither should you.
In good times, employers sometimes feel like they can start to play games with the contracts because they think members will be too busy making money to notice or to care. Thinking that way is a mistake, and we are quick to remind them. During times like these, members who are toyed with on the job can be back out to work the next day for another employer in many cases, so employers play games at their own peril.
Unfortunately, this has too often been the case recently with many of our material producer employers. These are the companies that produce stone, sand, gravel and other aggregate materials for many uses in construction, and it is a critically important industry. As Bill Dugan used to say, “if you control the material, you control the industry.”
For decades, we have had strong partnerships in this industry. In fact, the last time we had a strike against material producers was back in 1967 – 55 years ago. Recently, however, there has been a change of tone with some of our counterparts in management.
Our main agreements in the material production industry are with the Northern Illinois Material Producers Association (NIMPA) and the Chicago Area Aggregate Producers Association (CAAPA). Generally speaking, NIMPA is primarily made up of smaller producers along with contractors who produce stone for their own operations. CAAPA is made up of three multinational corporations – Hanson, Lafarge, and Vulcan.
One of the problems we run into when dealing with giant corporations is that our region is just a line on a spreadsheet to them, and there is not enough emphasis placed on the value of cooperation or partnership as industry stewards. As I said, we have had relative peace in this industry for generations, but that has changed recently.
Some members in this industry have been dealt with in a manner that is not appropriate, given the level of skill and talent that these members have. As we approached negotiations, the tone has been extremely adversarial with several of these companies, and some have now enlisted anti-union attorneys to guide them through negotiations. As is typical in situations like this, employers have already committed unfair labor practices by interfering with their employees’ rights in various ways.
Massive companies who don’t know Local 150 sometimes make the mistake of underestimating us, and if that is what they choose to do, they will learn the same lesson that so many have learned over the years. We don’t take hostility well and if they think they are going to play a game of chicken with us, they should probably think twice.
On May 22, more than 300 members who work in the material production industry met at the District 1 Hall and unanimously voted to authorize a strike if it becomes necessary. We have meetings scheduled with both associations, and the landscape may be different by the time you read this, but we are ready to do what we need to do to ensure that this industry stays strong into the future and that our members do not take a step back because some suit in another country thinks we make too much money. If they want to take us on, have at it.
We will keep the membership up to speed on things as they develop, because the material production industry touches so many others, and we need to support one another. While Local 150 members work many different jobs in many different settings, we are one union, and we all fight for the same things.
Local 150 has a well-deserved reputation for strength because we have shown through the years that an attack against one of us is an attack against all of us, and while we sometimes squabble among ourselves, we circle the wagons when someone takes a swing at us. Doing the hard things when so many others take it easy is what makes us Local 150.
Brothers and Sisters, work safely out there and keep an eye out for the members beside you. Help each other when you can and ask for help if you need it. We are a family, and if we stick together, nobody can beat us.
United We Stand, Divided We Fall.