Monday, April 22, 2013, marked the start of this year’s annual AFL-CIO Building and Construction Trades Department Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C.
Thousands of members of Building Trades union from throughout the United States gather to be educated, trained and inspired to make certain the interests of working families are front and center for our lawmakers on the national and local level.
Monday’s session opened with a speech by BCTD President Sean McGarvey (a proud IUPAT member!).
Read his speech below:
Sean McGarvey – President
Building and Construction Trades Department
2013 Legislative Conference
Ladies and Gentlemen, Brothers and Sisters, distinguished guests…
Welcome to the 2013 Legislative Conference of the Building and Construction Trades Department.
We gather together this week having been through the rigors of one of the worst depressions our industry has experienced in many generations. And as bad as it has been… and it has been brutal… we now stand on the threshold of opportunity.
There is an ancient language that uses two brush strokes to convey the word ‘crisis.’ One brush stroke stands for danger…but the other brush stroke stands for opportunity.
In other words, when you find yourself in a crisis, be aware of the danger…but recognize the opportunity.
Ladies and Gentlemen… Brothers and Sisters… that is where I see the union construction industry today. We are conscious of the dangers that still lurk about…whether it’s the continuing problems we face with our multi-employer pension system…or the potential for the US Congress to shove an expanded foreign guest worker program down our throats.
But, we are also cognizant of the green shoots of opportunity that are sprouting up all around us.
To those of you who know me, you know that I tell it like it is.
So, allow me to be as clear and as blunt as I can about what we need to focus on not only this week while we are together… but every single day from this point moving forward. If what we are doing does not maintain or grow opportunities for our members and contractors, then we must question why we are doing it.
Everywhere we look across our great nation, there is one constant theme that has emerged. I am speaking about the converging circumstances that have the potential to afford the union construction industry its greatest market share gains in generations.
From the Pacific coast, to the industrial heartland, to America’s Gulf Coast and Atlantic Coast, the opportunities that are presenting themselves to us equate to a once-in-a-lifetime chance for America’s Building Trades Unions to cement our stature as trusted and valued partners with owners and end-users in both the private and public sectors.
To get a flavor for what I am talking about, just look north to Canada. In similar fashion to the United States, Canada is in the throes of an unprecedented energy boom. And just like here in America, that boom is having positive ripple effects throughout the entire Canadian economy which, in turn, is providing an ever-increasing demand for skilled craft workers.
But, this scenario bumps up against one perplexing problem. And it’s called “Demographics.”
In both countries, our unions and our industry are now confronting the onslaught of baby boomer retirements. The situation is serious enough that last year Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued this warning, and I quote:
“Skill shortages are the biggest challenge our Country is currently facing.”
And in America, the problem is magnified by the fact that the ranks of skilled craft workers have been significantly thinned out due to the lingering effects of the 2008 global recession.
Many skilled craft workers have simply moved on to other industries.
So, what we are facing, brothers and sisters, is a scenario of accelerated economic growth. And that growth is fueled by domestic energy development, but has the potential for skilled workforce shortages. And those shortages, in large part, are the direct result of a labor relations philosophy that has produced a generation of stagnant wages in many areas of the nation.
All of which offers a landscape of golden opportunity for America’s Building Trades Unions. Provided, that is, that we seize these opportunities by being more strategic in our combined activities related to industry relations, politics and marketing.
Now, what do I mean by that?
As you all know, hard dollar PAC contributions are what fund US House and Senate campaigns.
Well, let me throw a few numbers at you.
The first one is this:
During the 2012 election cycle, the Building Trades… including the Operating Engineers and the Carpenters…were the #1 overall hard dollar PAC contributor; the #1 hard dollar PAC contributor to the Democratic Party; and the #4 hard dollar PAC contributor to the Republican Party.
Take a moment to digest what I just said.
We were the Number One hard dollar PAC contributor to Democratic candidates for Congress, and we were the Number Four hard dollar contributor to Republican candidates.
Now, those contributions don’t amount to a hill of beans if we are not being strategic enough to generate a return on those investments.
And, let me say this as emphatically as I can. The overriding goal of our political operations must be to ensure that we never, ever find ourselves in a position where all of our eggs are in one basket, and the combined fortunes of our members rest upon the outcome of a single Presidential debate performance.
Do you understand what I mean by that?
In other words, we need to continue to foster our political independence so that we are inoculated against sudden shifts in the political winds.
At every level of government, we have successfully cultivated relationships with many Republican lawmakers. We need to continue that work.
And with respect to our Democratic friends, we need to continue to hold them accountable by being more strategic in the timing of our political dollars so that they understand that there are no free passes!
For far too long, we have viewed politics as a charitable endeavor. We now need to view it as a means to an end. In other words, it’s all about business!
Now, along those same lines, let’s look at our marketing and communications activities.
When you tally up the combined marketing, advertising and public relations expenditures of all of our unions and all of our labor-management trusts at the national, state and local levels, it is not a stretch to conclude that the union construction industry is investing upwards of $30 MILLION DOLLARS a year to shape our brand in the minds of our industry and the general public.
That’s equal to the annual marketing and advertising budgets of well known brands such as Russell Athletic, Tylenol, and Mr. Clean.
The point that I am making here is simple. When it comes to marketing and communications, we have to start asking ourselves one simple question: Are we collectively weaving a strong, consistent message and brand identity across all of our marketing and communications platforms?
And this notion of consistency applies to our capital strategies approach, too.
Today, the Department is putting an ever greater emphasis upon the leveraging of our own pension fund assets, as well as those of other unions, to finance construction projects that will put our members back to work.
In fact, we are successfully working with some of the public sector unions, most notably, Randi Weingarten and the American Federation of Teachers, to harness the investment for the first time, of public pension assets in order to create job opportunities for our members.
With the help of friends like AFT, we have been able to strengthen and even institute responsible contractor policies that are tied to these pension investments; which go a long way to ensuring that our members have access to these job opportunities.
To date, there has been nearly four billion dollars in public pension fund investments being targeted for infrastructure projects, which is a direct result of our close involvement not only with unions like AFT, but also with former President Bill Clinton and the Clinton Global Initiative.
President Clinton and CGI have made it a priority to leverage pension assets for large-scale infrastructure projects, as well as commercial building energy efficiency improvements. And those are tremendous job opportunities for our members and our contractors.
Now, to this point about leveraging pension assets, I want to strongly urge all pension fund trustees in this room today to make a greater effort to invest in those funds that are helping put our members to work. I’m talking about ULLICO’s “J for Jobs” and its infrastructure funds; as well as the AFL-CIO’s Housing and Building Investment Trusts.
It simply makes good business sense, from a trustee perspective, as well as a leadership perspective, to utilize our combined assets to put our members back to work. After all, the more members we have working, the more pension contributions are flowing into our funds. And that will go a long ways towards helping to stabilize some of them.
Brothers and sisters, if there is one thought that I want to plant in each and every one you this week, it’s this: If we can simply become more coordinated and strategic in terms of our industry relations, our politics and our marketing endeavors, then we will have reached a pivotal moment in the history of the building trades.
So, today I challenge each and every one of you in this room to embrace the simple, yet profound, idea that we can best serve the interests of our industry, our unions and our members, by serving as a catalyst for a new approach in how we do business.
Our international unions, our state and local building trades councils, and our local unions must all endeavor to become laboratories of innovative thinking and action.
Because Job One for America’s Building Trades Unions in this day and age is to become a leader in the construction industry for crafting the necessary solutions to the problems that are most vexing to our end-user partners, while at the same time strengthening our ability to serve the needs of our membership.
I really hope all of you paid close attention to the opening video that was shown here this morning because it so clearly shows the overall value proposition that we offer to our owner and end-user partners.
And our value proposition is unlike anything that can be found anywhere. It is a value proposition that is predicated upon one unpretentious idea:
That we can, and do, provide a wide range of services, resources, and manpower that results in bottom-line monetary value for those owners and end-users who choose the path of partnership over the “low road” path of wage stagnation, exploitation and sub-standard quality outcomes.
Stop and think about it.
The last best thing that we do is provide the best-trained, most highly skilled and productive workforce found anywhere in the world. But, there is a whole other range of additional value that we bring to the table – which has a measurable bottom-line monetary value, and which can help us close the perceived “price delta” between union and non-union construction labor.
America’s Building Trades Unions are today embarking upon a new strategic path that is predicated upon leveraging our combined resources and abilities…and working in collective fashion…to fill gaps, solve problems and become industry thought leaders. And do it all with speed, flexibility and agility.
And when we reach that stage where our value proposition begins to gain wider recognition and acceptance, then we will be in a position of strength to elevate the economic circumstances of our membership.
And I can report to you today that we are starting to gain traction.
Building on the work started by my predecessor Mark Ayers, we have established successful partnerships with the oil and natural gas industry, the pharmaceutical industry, the nuclear power industry, the utility industry, and the fuel and petrochemical manufacturers association.
But, we are not stopping there.
We are currently moving towards a partnership with the American Chemistry Council in order to address policy issues affecting employment and investments in the U.S. chemical industry.
In similar fashion, we are establishing a working partnership with the Waterways Council, which is the leading entity advocating for infrastructure funding for our rivers, ports and waterways.
In every instance, we are demonstrating our concern for the aspirations of each of these industries, and we are offering up our assistance to help shape the policies that affect those aspirations.
And in return, these industries recognize the value proposition of our training programs, our skilled workforce, and our ability to address policy challenges.
So, when we digest all that took place with the project in New York that was featured in our opening video, it behooves us to always remember that these cooperative endeavors can, and do, reap substantial benefits for us.
The seven years of work that it took to get that Global Foundries project from initial concept to moving dirt is a textbook example of our value proposition in action. And who wouldn’t be willing to invest the time and energy over seven years when the payoff is $16 billion worth of work for our members and contractors.
And before I go any further, I would like to acknowledge Jeff Stark of the Greater Capitol Region Building Trades Council…Jim Cahill of the New York State Building Trades Council…and although we lost him last May… Eddie Malloy.
And I would like to also acknowledge all of the international reps, training directors and business agents in that region who did such an exemplary job; and for providing the rest of us with a solid template to emulate around the nation.
Now, I don’t mean to suggest that other councils around the nation are not operating in the same value-centric manner that was pursued by our brethren up in the Hudson Valley region. Because there are, indeed, many councils that are working to deploy our wide-ranging value proposition to work on behalf of an owner or end-user.
We have seen our councils and local unions mobilize for ballot initiatives on the West Coast and in the upper Midwest.
We have seen examples of our unions work in partnership with end-users to help facilitate the launch of new and innovative industries.
And, in every region of this nation we have seen our unions take a proactive approach to educating public officials and agencies on the utility and value of project labor agreements.
The point I am trying to make, and the point made by this video, is this: if you are operating in this manner, keep it up. And if you are not, then take notes and apply the lessons learned from the Global Foundries project.
For me, the most significant point in the video was the comment made by the owner representative in speaking to the relationship that Global Foundries now enjoys with the Building Trades.
It bears repeating, and I quote:
“Our companies are not organized and we don’t deal with unions on an operational level traditionally. Our relationship has grown to the point that we really have a trusting, collaborative relationship with the Building Trades. At every turn, they’ve asked how they can be of assistance. They’ve been, quite frankly, cost effective at times when people don’t think they could possibly be. Because they really are focused on that. So I would suggest that the Building Trades’ new collaborative progressive model is really of value. I mean it speaks for itself, we would not be entering into another project labor agreement, with all new construction on the largest project anywhere on the globe unless there was some trust and faith there.”
Brothers and Sisters, that is the gold standard. That’s the sweet spot that we are aiming for…to convince owners that the wide range of value, and the progressive labor relations model that we bring to the table, provides monetary value to their bottom lines.
Is that a big deal? Well, let me just say this.
Through a conscious and sustained effort at relationship building that was based upon our overall value proposition, we have secured a project labor agreement from Dominion Power to construct a multi-billion dollar liquefied natural gas export terminal at Cove Point in Maryland… 50 miles from this room.
Why is this a big deal?
Because the original facility at Cove Point was built non-union. And the subsequent upgrade was done non-union.
But through a sustained effort at presenting our value proposition… which included many meetings with Dominion executives…the company has now reversed its labor relations policy. As Vice President Joe Biden would say, brothers and sisters, that’s a big deal!
As I said earlier, when you navigate through a crisis you must be aware of the danger, while also seeking to capitalize on the opportunities. So, let’s talk for a moment about some of those dangers.
First, we have to confront and address the problems that continue to plague our multi-employer pension plans. Recently, the National Coordinating Committee for Multi-Employer Plans released a proposal that seeks to offer solutions to many of the problems that our plans face. For almost two years now, we have worked with our contractor partners…as well as the nation’s leading actuaries, attorneys and defined benefit experts…to craft a comprehensive private sector solution to safeguard retirement security for multiemployer plan participants that protects taxpayers and spurs economic growth.
In short, our proposal is based upon crafting solutions, not relying upon bailouts, in order to keep multi-employer plans intact and solvent.
I won’t get into the details of the proposal at this moment. Randy DeFrehn of the NCCMP will provide a comprehensive review of our proposal during tomorrow’s Legislative Issues workshop.
But, at the end of the day, this proposal will serve as the basis for federal legislation that we will shepherd through the U.S. Congress until we achieve final passage.
And speaking of Congress, the issue of immigration reform is on the front burner.
America’s Building Trades Unions support a comprehensive solution to fix our nation’s broken immigration laws. But, we are firm in our belief that a solution be founded upon a few vitally important components:
Number one… A reasonable path to citizenship for the undocumented.
Number two… Securing and strengthening of our borders.
Number three… real penalties for employers who financially benefit from hiring an exploitable workforce…
And Number four… No new temporary worker program.
Let me repeat that last one: No new temporary worker program!
Last week, a bi-partisan bill was introduced in the U.S. Senate. The bill’s authors recognized the current job crisis in our industry, and they placed constraints on the temporary foreign worker program as it would apply to construction.
But, that doesn’t mean we are safe. This is an 800 page bill that touches on each and every aspect of this issue. We are currently reviewing the bill and hope to improve it through the legislative process.
And make no mistake, the ABC, the AGC, and other contractor groups will be seeking ways to lift those constraints, either in the Senate bill or in a future House bill.
So, when you meet with your Senators and Representatives this week, remind them how our industry continues to suffer from high levels of unemployment.
They need to understand that we have a job shortage in construction, not a worker shortage. And should we at some point find ourselves faced with skilled workforce shortages, then the solution lies NOT in the importation of foreign guest workers, but by investing in the training infrastructure that benefits American workers.
We will have a longer and deeper discussion on this issue tomorrow at the Legislative workshop. But, each and every one of you needs to understand that this is a critical issue for our unions and our members, and our voices must be heard.
On another front, we are pursuing a legislative strategy aimed at strengthening the status of registered apprenticeship in America that grows and builds upon our billion dollar investment in workforce development. And we remain committed to securing a comprehensive policy for increased investments in re-building our nation’s infrastructure, whose condition has again been given a grade of D+ by the American Society of Civil Engineers.
And we can jumpstart that effort on Wednesday, when we will gather downtown just across from the White House, to deliver a loud and unmistakable message about Jobs and the critical need to build the Keystone XL pipeline!
And through it all, we will maintain a strong defense against any and all attacks on PLAs and prevailing wage laws.
Brothers and Sisters, whether we are talking about industry relations, politics, capital investments, or marketing… one thing is certain. We will succeed only to the extent that all of us – at the national, state and local level – understand and accept that our movement is, and must be, different from a generation ago.
This is not, nor should it be, your grandfather’s Building Trades.
Today, we must be nimble, innovative and willing to adapt to the circumstances that confront us. Because when we are being challenged to both maintain and grow our market share, we do not have the luxury of allowing our historical shortcomings and distractions to impede our growth while the open shop exploits those distractions for their own gain.
And we can no longer tolerate dysfunction and disunity within and among our ranks.
Duly elected leaders of our unions — whether they are international officers, state and local building trades council leaders, or local union business managers – must be free from the petty politics of personalities and jealousies so that they can provide leadership that speaks to the interests of our industry, our unions… and most importantly the members we represent.
As I said to you last year, when I first addressed this conference, I consider myself a student of history.
And one of the great leaders of the past who fascinates me was General George C. Marshall, the author of the Marshall Plan which was the successful guide to the re-building of Europe at the conclusion of World War Two.
Marshall once said, and I quote: “It is not enough to fight. “It is the spirit which we bring to the fight that decides the issue. It is morale that wins the victory.”
And during his military career, General Marshall would always demand that his senior officers not fight the problem, but to decide the problem.
When a thing is done, he said, it’s done. Don’t look back. Look forward to your next objective.
That’s the manner in which we must begin to think, brothers and sisters. Because if we continually find ourselves hamstrung because of nonsensical and nonproductive debates between the past and the present, then I can assure you that the future will simply pass us by.
It’s not enough that we do our best; sometimes we have to do what’s required. We can no longer sit back and wait for opportunity to come knocking on our door. Instead, we must aggressively assert ourselves in every region of this country and start knocking on the doors of owners and end-users in order to secure an opportunity to introduce ourselves and our value proposition.
Brothers and Sisters, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that we cannot afford to waste. And our success or failure…will be decided on the extent to which we move forward together as a unified team. Because if we don’t, we will most assuredly crumble.
For the last five years, we have endured nothing short of an economic Hell. And many of our members have experienced a personal Hell that has, in too many instances, shattered whole families.
The choice we have today is to stand pat and do nothing…which has NEVER been the way of the Building Trades.
Or, we can fight harder and smarter by leveraging and coordinating the tools and resources we have at our disposal.
That’s the Building Trades way.
Make no mistake, Brothers and Sisters, our objective is to climb back out of Hell… one industry, one owner, and one project at a time.
And it has to be ALL OF US! Every leader in this room today doing what needs to be done to advance our industry in every part of this nation.
Now is the time for us to put our best foot forward in order to deliver the value that will create opportunities for our contractors and our members.
As I look out across this room, I see the best and the brightest minds our unions and our industry have to offer. And we have achieved that distinction because we provide one singular, yet all-important item —- value.
As Warren Buffet, once said, “Price is what you pay; value is what you get.”
And the future will always be bright for those who provide value.
It’s not rocket science, Brothers and Sisters… but it is something that separates those who succeed from those who don’t… and those who win from those who lose.
There once was a great American philosopher… who famously said, “If you’re not first… you’re last.”
And I know all of you are with me when I say… that we intend to win!
AND WE WILL WIN !!!
Thank you, God Bless You… and God Bless America’s Building Trades Unions.