The 69th Convention of North America’s Building Trades Unions Opens

This week, delegates of the Building Trades from across North America are gathering at the 69th Convention of North America’s Building Trades Unions.

BCTD President Sean McGarvey gave his keynote address today.  Read it below:

Keynote Address of President Sean McGarvey

69th Constitutional Convention of North America’s Building Trades Unions

August 25, 2015

Delegates, Brothers and Sisters, Ladies and Gentlemen:

It is my great pleasure to welcome you to the 69th Constitutional Convention of North America’s Building Trades Unions.

Whenever and wherever we gather as representatives of our great institutions, we do so united by a noble mission and a common purpose.

And we are never more united than when we come together every five years to commit to expanding our mission and to chart a strategic course for success.

Today, that course is reflected in the theme of this convention: “Value @ Work… Partnerships for Growth in North America.”

Brothers and Sisters, five years ago when we gathered in Minneapolis for our 68th Convention, we were still dealing with the aftershocks of an economic tsunami, and it was shortly thereafter we also had to deal with the passing of our great leader, Mark Ayers.

bctd-conventionIn the five years since our last convention, it has been the singular objective of the Governing Board of Presidents that we place our focus on increasing work opportunities for our members and contractors, and capturing market share all across North America.

We have embraced the idea that we need to identify and build relationships with individual businesses and whole industries.

All of us would be derelict in our duties as leaders, if we did not pursue a strategy of direct engagement and partnership with those corporations and industries that are leading the way in capital construction investments and job creation.

Specifically, I am talking about the oil and gas industry, the petro-chemical industry, the power generation industry, and the nuclear industry, just to name a few.

These, as well as others, are the industries with some of the greatest job opportunities for our members, and they also hold the potential for some of the greatest market share gains we have seen in some time.

So far in 2015 alone, roughly $164 billion dollars’ worth of work has come through the door of the Building Trades’ national office under our GPA agreement, the National Construction Agreement, and assorted Project Labor Agreements.

And we are continuing to emphasize our value proposition to private developers and financiers.

At times throughout our history, we have overlooked opportunities to leverage our considerable pension assets, and thereby elevate labor standards and create work opportunities for our members and contractors.

We are getting smarter about leveraging our assets in order to elevate labor standards.

And with the support of strategic allies in the labor movement; such as the American Federation of Teachers, and by engaging large funds and institutions such as CalPERS, CalSTERS, TIAA-CREF and MassMutual, to name a few, we will see to it that high road standards become the industry NORM…rather than the EXCEPTION.

Think about this:

From 2009-2014, ULLICO’s J for Jobs and the Housing Investment Trust combined to invest roughly two billion dollars in commercial and residential development projects.

That two billion dollar investment led to over five billion dollars’ worth of development which, in turn, produced almost 50 million man hours of work for Building Trades members — ALL DURING A RECESSION!

Right now, Taft-Hartley pension funds invest roughly a HALF TRILLION DOLLARS — and less than 3% of that is invested in these types of job creating funds.

Just imagine what could happen if we were to bump that up to 5, 7, or even 10%!

I will tell you what will happen.

We would be well on our way to achieving significant market share gains all across the United States, and in all sectors of the construction market.

A priority for all of us in this room here this week should be doing all that we can to dramatically increase the percentage of investments in proven, job-creating investment vehicles, such as the Housing Investment Trust, the Building Investment Trust, ULLICO’s J for Jobs Fund, and the Multi-Employer Property Trust, among others.

We will continue this important work and I ask for your continued support in this regard.

Equally important as building business and industry relationships is our focus on building relationships and partnerships with public officials and community leaders at the state and local level.

Today, the issues of wage stagnation, income inequality, and economic opportunity and mobility are now the leading domestic issues for the 2016 campaign in America.

Further, the outbreaks of urban unrest that we have seen recently in areas like Ferguson and Baltimore underscore the fact that our nation continues to struggle with the core issues associated with urban strife.

Politicians in both Canada and the United States are increasingly coming to realize that long-term social and economic stability depends upon finding solutions to these issues.

Brothers and Sisters, if there was ever a moment in time when the Building Trades were ideally positioned to have a measurable impact in these policy deliberations, this is it.

Ours is a proven business model that is addressing some of the core problems that lie at the heart of income inequality across North America.

And it is a business model that embraces concepts and principles that are attractive to elected leaders of all political persuasions.

They appreciate the wisdom in leveraging capital construction investments with our construction apprenticeship-readiness and apprenticeship programs in order to create the pathways that enable people to gain a foothold on the “ladder to the middle class.”

In America, lawmakers of both parties especially like the fact that our formal apprenticeship infrastructure is privately funded with our contractors to the tune of over $1 billion dollars annually.

Brothers and Sisters, what I am saying to you is this:

It is incumbent upon all of us as leaders of North America’s Building Trades Unions to capitalize on the opportunities that are presenting themselves today.

First, businesses and whole industries are facing increasing needs for highly skilled and productive craft workers.

Secondly, politicians and policy makers of both parties are struggling to address the general public’s growing concerns with issues like wage stagnation and income inequality.

And finally, there is growing trepidation that the violence and destruction we have seen in Ferguson and Baltimore is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the frustrations being felt in urban areas.

Our model has been successful in helping to deal with all of these concerns.

And where we have enjoyed success on these fronts, we have also found that we are more effective in turning back legislative and/or regulatory attacks on Project Labor Agreements and Prevailing Wage statutes.

The realities of the world we live in, especially when it comes to politics, force us to be more strategic in order to achieve success.

For years, we have implored provincial, state, and local building trades councils to embrace our historical non-partisan approach to political action.

It is an approach to politics that is based upon the realities of who we are, as well as the very reasonable wants, wishes and desires of our membership.

And it’s constructed upon a realistic view of the political world as it exists…not as we want it to be.

That is not to say that we are not interested in seeking favorable political change, because we are and always will be.

But, we must deal with the here and now.

Those entities that succeed politically today, understand that politics is, always has been, and always will be about business.

We need to think the same way.

In both the United States and Canada today, political power has shifted.

Republicans are in control in the States, and the conservatives have the upper hand in Canada.

But the broader labor movement, unfortunately, continues to be one of the very few entities that remain single-party oriented.

Let’s be candid:

The Democrats and the NDP are not likely to return to power overnight.

Building foxholes and riding out the storm in the hopes that someday soon our traditional allies will be back in power is a losing strategy; and one that comes nowhere near to addressing the immediate and long-term needs of our membership across the North American continent!

Today, we are seeing an increase in attacks on prevailing wage laws in many states across America…

…and efforts in Canada to force increased union reporting.

The question to ask ourselves is, “Why?”

Contrary to the public pronouncements of those in America who favor repeal of prevailing wage statutes, these efforts have nothing to do with the cost of public construction.

It’s first and foremost about the fact that the American labor movement as a whole continues to be viewed without distinction as a, quote, unquote, “pass thru” of political donations for the Democratic Party.

Since the Building Trades was chartered at the beginning of the 20th Century, our issues and our policy positions have been unique to our industry.

In fact, the way our industry works is distinct and unlike any other in North America.

Our job, Brothers and Sisters, is to engage and educate lawmakers everywhere —

…especially now that the issues of wage stagnation and job opportunities loom so large in the minds of the voting public.

Brothers and Sisters, our priority when it comes to politics in both Canada and the United States is for the Building Trades to become central participants in these policy debates.

When we gain a seat at these policy discussion tables, and when we have the opportunity to articulate our operational model, we then find it is easier to craft together “Building Trades Majorities” at all levels of government and to turn back blatant political attacks like those we see on prevailing wage and PLAs in America, as well as the push for Bill C-377 in Canada that is designed to weaken our unions.

This is an important point, Brothers and Sisters.

It is only through these bi-partisan coalitions that we will be able to ensure and protect the economic fortunes of our members from the shifting winds of politics and the increasing political attacks on labor.

And, in doing so, we are better able to get lawmakers to focus on issues that truly matter.

Infrastructure is not a partisan issue…

A comprehensive national energy policy is not a partisan issue…

And “high road” labor standards in the construction industry is not a partisan issue!

2016 is a presidential year in America.

And Canada’s federal election is coming up in October of this year.

In the States, there’s a good chance that we may end up endorsing the Democratic nominee.

And if that Democratic candidate wins, we need to understand that THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES IS NOT OUR BUSINESS AGENT.

Just like the Canadian Prime Minister, or a Provincial Premier, is not our business agent.

These politicians, by themselves, cannot, and often times will not, solve our problems.

The last 8 years of a Democratic American President should be convincing evidence of that.

Conversely. and provided that we have not succumbed to the one-party thinking that does not serve the interests of our members, we should not panic if the Republican nominee wins the presidency or if the conservative wins in Canada.

Brothers and Sisters, North America’s Building Trades Unions have the potential to be more than just a federation of trade unions.

We have the potential to re-write what unions CAN BE…and SHOULD BE…in both the United States and Canada.

Where we have seen our business model work effectively at a state, provincial or local level, we see have seen a transformation of our brand identity into one that stands for something real and meaningful, and one that provides economic worth to businesses and industries, and a critical leg-up to millions of people of all ages and backgrounds across North America.

Brothers and Sisters, the essence of our unions is the delivery of value.

Value to industry and businesses; and value to the communities in which we live and work.

Make no mistake about it… this is the engine that drives the train, and everything we do as a collective organization must flow from it.

In areas where our decision-making is in sync with the values that are inherent in our strategic approach, we are achieving great success.

Our approach is not centered upon lofty statements of purpose, or flowery prose predicting rewards and promises.

Nor is it wrapped up in endless resolutions and policy objectives that dilute our message and are not reflective of our core functions.

No, our strategic approach simply reflects our intent to maximize our resources and talents in order to bring value to our industry and our members, and in so doing perhaps re-define what unions can be throughout North America.

When looking back on the history of the Building Trades, those who worked to build our great institutions were simple people of modest means and humble beginnings.

But, they were also blessed with a clear sense of who they were, and what our organizations were put on this Earth to do.

In this, they were just like all of us here today—honest, hard-working people of strong faith and commitment who simply want something better for the men and women of our unions and for those in the communities of our two great nations who deserve a simple dose of hope and opportunity.

Nothing more. Nothing less.

None of us lay claim to any great insights into the future.

But, we should always look to the future.

So, that is what we do day in and day out, job by job, community by community we look to find ways to make the future just a little bit brighter.

For our members. For our clients. For our communities. And for our nations.

For 107 years, brothers and sisters, we have set the standard for recruiting, training…

and providing the safest, most highly skilled and productive craft workforce known to man.

But those same 107 years have been marked periodically by miscalculations, mistakes in strategic thinking, and internal disputes among ourselves.

Today, we have vastly scaled back those disputes thanks to the extraordinary leaders who comprise the Building Trades Governing Board of Presidents.

And through the strategic approach that I have outlined here today, we are now on a growth trajectory.

Unfortunately, all of us are very much aware that today there is potential instability developing in the global economy and across financial markets.

But barring a global economic catastrophe, we intend to stay the course with this strategic approach which has proven to increase our numbers and build greater market share for the union construction industry.

Now, of course, we are not immune to the sounds of criticism.

There are some who feel that this strategic approach is perhaps wrong-headed.

But, as Aristotle once said, “Criticism is something you can easily avoid by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.”

We respect people’s opinions; and we can respect thoughtful criticism.

But, in our world, we have to respect results.

And those results are contained in stories about real people.

People like Megan Smith, a Disabled Veteran who was an Aircraft Armament Systems Specialist in the United States Air Force, and now, thanks to the Helmets to Hardhats program, finds herself as an apprentice with Bricklayers Local 8 in Slocomb, Alabama.

Or, someone like Brent Stai, a proud member of the UA’s Pipeliner Local 798, who has discovered that the numerous work opportunities being afforded to him in the pipeline industry have enabled him to pay off his wife’s student loans, helped them buy their first house, and give back to charitable organizations that are dear to his family.

Then, there is Francesca Seaton, an American military veteran who served seven years in the U.S. Army, including tours in Kuwait and Afghanistan.

Upon her transition out of the military, Francesca, like far too many American military veterans today, found it increasingly difficult to find meaningful employment and career opportunities in civilian life.

But through the joint efforts of Southern Company, Georgia Power and North America’s Building Trades Unions, Francesca is now on the path to securing a stable and prosperous life, first as a graduate of the Plant Vogtle apprenticeship-readiness program and now as an apprentice with Ironworkers Local 709 in Augusta, GA.

And then there is the story of Lisa King from the province of Newfoundland.

Lisa endured a difficult and painful divorce and, like so many women trying to start a new life, soon found herself in desperate need of income without having a discernible set of marketable skills.

As a mother of two children, Lisa could not afford to go to school for a lengthy period, so she needed something that paid well and was flexible.

Luckily, she was eligible for a Canadian government grant that helped partially pay for her crane operating courses.

She is now a Third Year Mobile Crane Apprentice with the International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 904 in Mount Pearl NEWFOUNDLAND… and she absolutely LOVES her job.

Today, Lisa is able to support her two children and maintain the lifestyle they had been used to prior to her divorce.

Brothers and Sisters, when we hear stories like these — and there are thousands in every state and province on this continent — it reminds us that this is why we have chosen the work that we do.

We know who we are, Brothers and Sisters, and we know how much of a difference we are making in people’s lives and how much more we could do if we took the time to educate more people about who we are and what we do.

I can tell you that in those areas where we are fully aligned with all aspects of this strategic approach – places like Seattle, Edmonton, Los Angeles, Cleveland, New York, Toronto and Boston – we enjoy tremendous success; we are having an impact on the community; and our membership is thriving.

Now, having said that, let me say this as well:

The Building Trades is not afraid to fight.

But, we lost a tremendous amount of market share a generation ago because fighting and conflict was always our first instinct.

Today, we don’t get mad and seek retribution when we hear the word “No.”

We simply ask: “What will it take to get you to say ‘yes’ to doing business with us?”

And when they tell us what it will take, we put our nose to the grindstone to make that happen.

And I can tell you, since becoming President of this great organization, the vast majority of conversations that I have with business and industry leaders is how we can get to “yes.”

First and foremost, we are and always have been a labor organization that works on behalf of its members; and the important work that we will do here this week will go a long ways towards reaffirming our value-based strategic approach.

Brothers and Sisters, North America’s Building Trades Unions are in a stronger place today across both Canada and the United States.

This favorable position is a result of the tremendous hard work put forth by the members of our Governing Board of Presidents, as well as all of you in this room.

And not just in the last few years, but really over the last decade.

These are not ordinary times.

But they are times of opportunity.

The ancient Greeks had a word for moments like this. They called it “kairos” which roughly translated means “the one who seizes the helm of fate, will face great fortune.”

Let it be our members and our unions that seize the helm and find great fortune!

I am asking you to commit to a better Building Trades movement across North America; and do it by leveraging our resources; developing partnerships with friends and allies; and by making smart choices that are filtered through reality.

Do it out of love for our industry and for our two great nations.Do it out of the love we have for the local communities where we live, and for the ways in which our unions are improving the human condition.

But mostly, do it out of the love we have for the men and women of our unions who have entrusted their careers and the economic security of their families to our care.

Thank you for your dedication and commitment to this new strategic approach, and may North America’s Building Trades Unions always bring value to our two great nations.

Thank you, and God bless you.