WASHINGTON, D.C.—More than 2,500 Building Trades delegates from the United States and Canada gathered in Washington, D.C. March 9-12 for the annual legislative conference of North America’s Building Trades Unions.
Delegates from Los Angeles and Orange County had face-to-face meetings with several Congressional representatives. “This is our chance to sit down, take time with them and really express what our priorities are,” said Ron Miller, Executive Secretary of the Los Angeles/Orange Counties Building and Construction Trades Council. With Rep. Janice Hahn, for example, delegates talked about supporting high speed rail and BNSF’s SCIG project. With Rep. Adam Schiff, there was give-and-take on the extension of the 710 Freeway, and a push for Metro’s Purple Line subway. With Rep. Loretta Sanchez, one concern was the misuse of visas that are leading to a loss of construction jobs in Orange County. The alliance includes 14 national and international unions that represent more than 3 million skilled crafts professionals in the U.S. and Canada.
Bill Clinton Gets Involved
“Our unions today stand upon the threshold of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to secure significant market-share gains for the union construction industry,” President Sean McGarvey said. “But to do that, we have to work harder, smarter and more strategically than ever before.”
The highlight of the conference was a surprise visit by President Bill Clinton. He praised the Building Trades’ collaboration with his Clinton Global Initiative to invest in infrastructure. “What we are doing is just scratching the surface,” Clinton said. “It’s the proper way to invest in our economy because it works. These types of investments are a better job growth strategy than financial transactions.”
U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez told the Building Trades they exemplify advancement through hard work. “There is a direct correlation, throughout American history, between the health of the labor movement and the strength of the middle class.”
He said the Trades have stayed strong through rigorous training. “Construction jobs are good jobs because you have made them good jobs—through your organizing, your investment in training and strategic partnerships with contractors and your unfailing commitment to high-quality work.”
On March 11, more than 200 delegates and Building Trades allies packed a standing-room-only luncheon held by the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California at the Washington Court Hotel.
Council President Robbie Hunter thanked all the Building Trades Councils for their hard work in passing state legislation. “We never would get any of these bills passed if it were not for the Building Trades Councils in this room, the individual local unions and your members working hard and educating elected officials on who you are and who we are.”
A minority of anti-union legislators is still causing gridlock, Hunter noted.
“The trend in this nation is not good,” Hunter said. “We have to turn it around, and we’ll work hard to do that. In California, we are going to control our own destiny.” He mentioned specifically the Council’s work against anti-union charter cities, and successful efforts to improve safety in refineries by passing SB 54.
Pelosi Praises Building Trades
U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi was guest speaker, and thanked the Building Trades for “all you’ve done at the legislative level to insure success for America’s working families in California. The Building Trades are central to a strong middle class in our country. You are fighting for the American dream as we know it—and as we want to expand it.”
Pelosi said the struggle is over nothing less than how to define the nation. “Our founders fought for something that was fair, that we would have opportunity with jobs.”
U.S. Representative Alan Lowenthal also spoke. “I believe in unions,” Lowenthal said. “I believe in working people. You have allies in Congress. We have the same goals that you do. It’s about time we have policies in this country to protect working people. We can reshape the attitudes of America by standing and working together.”