Brothers and Sisters,
I hope this edition of the Engineer finds you healthy, happy, and working as many hours as you can. As I reported at the General Membership Meeting in July, we are on track to beat last year’s massive work hours, and that has translated to low out-of-work lists across our jurisdiction. After serving as President-Business Manager through some difficult economic times – to put it mildly – it brings me a lot of happiness to know that work prospects are so strong right now and into the foreseeable future.
A lot of the work that you are currently doing comes as a result of the efforts of this local union, whether it is state infrastructure, Illinois Tollway, or utility replacement work; but we are starting to see the impact of federally-funded programs as well. Between infrastructure, manufacturing facilities, and renewable energy installations, this funding will go a long way to strengthen an already outstanding work outlook.
I’ll preface this by recognizing, as I often do, that Local 150’s membership is as diverse politically as you’ll find anywhere. Building trades unions tend to be more conservative than other sectors, and Local 150 has a reputation for being one of the more conservative unions in the Midwest. When I bump into people who think that unions only support Democrats, I can’t help but laugh. Our politics is driven by ideas and policies rather than blind allegiance to a single party. This has served us well for generations, and it will continue to do so long into the future.
Local 150 supports politicians who support us. Whether they have a D or an R after their name, we follow the timeless words of Samuel Gompers by rewarding our friends and punishing our enemies. Some unions approach politics with very little thought, but politics is a very nuanced world, and we have never bought into the idea that every single Democrat is spending too much money or that every single Republican wants to destroy unions. That would be lazy, and there is a whole lot more to it than that. By building deeper relationships based on trust and experience, Local 150 has been one of the most politically effective unions in the Midwest for decades.
Having recognized that, let me say this: the current administration in Washington is the best that I have seen when it comes to the things that strengthen our union. If you look at a picture of me from 15 years ago, I had dark hair. Not anymore. I have lost more sleep during hard times than I care to remember, and when things are uncertain for our membership, I take it to heart. After as many challenges as we’ve been through, I know something good when I see it.
Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty that I disagree with, but when it comes to policies that I know will continue to benefit our membership, the labor movement, and the middle class, it isn’t even close. And there just hasn’t been a president who talks about unions as much as President Biden does. This isn’t even about politics though—it is about facts.
After spending the last 40 years watching the continued failure of “trickle-down economics” eviscerate the middle class in our country, this administration is putting its money where its mouth is by promoting policies that support middle-out, bottom-up growth in our economy.
As an example, take the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), an independent federal agency that was created to protect workers’ right to bargain collectively and to prevent and remedy unfair labor practices committed by employers against their workers. In just the past few weeks, the NLRB declared war on union-busters, introducing a regulation that forces employers who commit unfair labor practices against their employees during an election period to immediately recognize the union and bargain with it. Companies that violate their workers’ rights during an election (an extremely common practice) risk losing outright and going straight to union recognition. Finally, something that has some teeth to stop employers from acting with apparent impunity against their workers.
We have sought policies like this from Washington for decades, but Congress is always too divided to agree on transformational pro-worker policies. Where Congress will not act, though, the NLRB has shown that it will. Driven not only by new appointments but also by a bulldog in General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo, the agency is acting on its mission of helping workers.
Remember that from 2016- 2020, we were fighting the NLRB’s attempts to curtail workers’ First Amendment rights, weaken organizing rights, and even ban the use of inflatable rats. And when I say “we,” I mean Local 150. We were the defendants in two cases brought by the NLRB back then, claiming that our use of inflatable rats was coercive and illegal. Rather than pushing cases to strengthen our union, our attorneys were forced to spend their time playing defense against the very agency that is supposed to be there to help us.
We’ve gone from an NLRB that attacked our basic rights to one that is pushing the envelope to protect the right to organize in just a few short years. I think we can all agree that America does better when workers do better, and aggressive efforts on behalf of those workers will serve our country well.
Similarly, the United States Department of Labor (USDOL) revised the way federal prevailing wages are calculated around the country to ensure that workers in less unionized areas are paid more.
All the USDOL had to do was reverse a method of calculating these wages that was implemented by President Reagan. Again, where Congress has failed, an agency is taking action.
These are just two of the many actions that show the intent of this administration, and I haven’t even touched the amount of construction work that has come from Washington and the way that the funding has been crafted to encourage the use of union workers.
Between the Bipartisan Infrastructure Plan, the CHIPs Act, and the Inflation Reduction Act, there is more than $4 trillion in federally-funded work coming over the next 10 years, and it is already putting Local 150 members to work.
If you’re hearing about solar farms, battery plants, or wind turbine repowers near your home, odds are that they are coming as a result of the funding and incentives that the Biden Administration has pushed through Congress. The same goes for microprocessor manufacturing. And all of the funding for this work carries requirements that the construction be done under prevailing wage. Same goes for the subsidies and incentives going to companies building renewable energy infrastructure and facilities.
Predictably, some companies tried to cash in by taking these subsidies and planning to build their facilities in the lowest-wage areas of the country, and that is what drove the USDOL to take steps to enhance prevailing wage laws to ensure that workers wouldn’t be exploited. That move said a lot to me – after providing incentives intended to benefit workers, when those incentives were used to pay workers as little as possible, the administration stepped in immediately to slam that loophole shut.
If that isn’t demonstrable loyalty to workers and to unions, I don’t know what is.
Again, actions like these go beyond anything that any president in my lifetime has done to empower workers and support a path to a better life through union membership. As union members, this is what we want to see.
Local 150’s politics are pretty straightforward. We support politicians who invest in infrastructure, protect workers, and oppose anti-union policies like “right-to-work.” We don’t make endorsements or decisions based on social issues or things that aren’t directly connected to the core principles of this union. Our membership can – and does – disagree on countless issues and policies, but when it comes to creating work and protecting what we have as union members, we push in the same direction, and that is what our union is here to do.
Things in Washington are working for us more than they have in quite a while. It’s far from perfect. Congress still can’t figure out that it is a good idea to pass laws to protect workers and support unions, but there is progress, and it is going to make life better for Local 150 members.
As the summer winds down, work hard, stay safe, and always look out for the Brother or Sister next to you. If you can help an apprentice, please take the time to do so. Never forget the resources you have at your disposal at the Training Center. Things are good, and while it’s important to enjoy that, never stop looking to the future and pushing to make things even better. I look forward to seeing you at the September District Meetings.
United We Stand, Divided We Fall.