Brothers and Sisters,
With the weather only starting to look like spring across our jurisdiction, the out-of-work lists in each district are already starting to get low. This is an exciting time. We’ve been looking forward to it all winter, and I hope you all are ready to get to work.
For months, I have written about the abundance of work that we have ahead of us this summer, and in many cases offered some back stories on how some of these jobs are the fruit of our own planning from many years ago.
As an example, more than 400 of our members packed hearings set up by the Illinois Tollway back in 2011 to help pass a funding package to rebuild the tollway system. That funding is why we have so many members working on I-294 and I-490 right now and why the Tollway has been the source of so much work over the past decade.
Think back over the years to all the times you’ve gotten a postcard or an email to show up at a meeting or send a message to legislators in support of a funding bill or infrastructure plan, and think about each one of those asks as a seed that was planted to create jobs for our members months or years in the future.
When I came on staff as an organizer, one of the most important things I learned from watching Bill Dugan and some of the legendary leaders of the day was that no matter how good the work is, the union never stopped looking to the future and thinking about the projects that members would be working on two or three years from then. It is something I didn’t know as a member in the field, but I believe it is one of the things that sets Local 150 apart from other unions.
The foresight of our leaders and the activism of our members is the reason that we are looking ahead to a great year while many of our Brothers and Sisters in the finish trades are staring into the abyss as commercial real estate in the City of Chicago tanks. Areas like LaSalle Street, once the heart of the Loop, are still nearly empty on weekdays, and there is no big rebound in sight.
The lull of commercial real estate will impact us as well, though it is unlikely that any members will experience unemployment because of it. They will more likely go to work on other projects we have worked to queue up. While we are on this topic, I will give a very important piece of advice – if you are sitting on the list waiting for a call for a tower crane, don’t do that. There is so much work out there, and waiting for a tower crane would be a mistake.
If anything, the slowdown in commercial real estate doesn’t come at a bad time for us. The federal infrastructure bill will fill that gap and keep the demand for operators high. With our apprenticeship program only now catching up from the pandemic, the lull even lightens the challenge of finding active members and retirees to fill seats while we bring in apprentices to replace the members we lost over the past three years.
Like any other weak spot in the construction market, we will work with policymakers and developers to find a path forward and strengthen this sector as quickly as possible, but the timeframe on an unprecedented shift like this is difficult to predict, so we won’t be putting all of our eggs in that basket. While the downtown office saga plays out, there are several important infrastructure projects that we are currently focused on.
For almost a decade, the utility line replacement programs in and around Chicago have consistently been one of our biggest sources of man-hours. As many of you may have seen, consumer advocate groups have been targeting utilities over the past couple of years for the rate increases that have come as a result of energy cost spikes as well as the price of the utility replacement program.
Companies like Nicor, Peoples Gas, and Ameren work under a qualified infrastructure plant (QIP), which allows them to recoup the costs associated with replacing hundreds of miles of old utility lines. Without a plan to recover these costs, the infrastructure replacement programs would grind to a quick halt, which is unacceptable for several reasons. Aside from the employment benefits that these programs deliver, they are also necessary to keep our gas systems efficient by preventing leaks.
The QIP is set to expire this year, and these utilities are trying to extend it in order to continue this work. Needless to say, we are working with legislators across the state on both sides of the aisle to express the importance of the QIP. This might sound dry, but it is precisely this kind of engagement that ensures the continuation of important infrastructure programs.
In addition, we are working on several fronts to expedite the reconstruction of the I-290 Eisenhower Expressway. Local 150’s own Marc Poulos was recently appointed by Governor Pritzker to the Blue Ribbon Commission on Transportation Infrastructure Funding and Policy, where he is helping to bring people together in support of this multi-billion-dollar project. If and when this project gets off the ground, it will be because of more than two years of work that we have already put into building this coalition and educating the public and lawmakers on the need.
Finally, as I mentioned before, we are starting to see the federal infrastructure money come through, and one of the areas where we are seeing rapid growth is solar energy. Across our jurisdiction in Illinois and Indiana, there is a major uptick in permits for solar farms, and many of these projects would last for two or three years.
Like we saw with wind farms during the Great Recession, there is a lot of support for these projects, but there are also local residents who will pack board meetings to try to run these projects out of town.
We cannot and will not let these people win. We’ve organized in the past to support these kinds of projects, and we will likely have to do it again. As Recording-Corresponding Secretary Mike Kresge wrote in his article for this edition, many members will probably get phone calls and emails in the near future to attend meetings in support of solar farms. It doesn’t matter if you are already working, because by the time these projects are in full swing, it might be you who is looking for a job.
While it is a lot of work, fighting so hard for the jobs of the future is a luxury afforded us because work is so good today. Get out there and make some money this year. Represent the union with class and professionalism, and look out for one another on the job.
United We Stand, Divided We Fall.