United States Labor Secretary Praises Building Trades

LOS ANGELES—Building Trades Project Labor Agreements entered the national spotlight Aug. 18, when United States Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez visited Los Angeles and praised the historic, $40 billion agreement that covers transit work under Measure R.

Perez toured a worksite for the Crenshaw/LAX light rail line and met Los Angeles/Orange Counties Building and Construction Trades Council Executive Secretary Ron Miller and several members of Building Trades unions, as well as elected officials, contractors and Metro leaders. The stop was the kickoff of his national tour to celebrate Labor Day.

The $2 billion Crenshaw/LAX line will run 8.5 miles with eight stations, and Building Trades workers are currently on the job.

Perez said PLAs boost the economy by providing good careers to apprentices and journeymen. “A transit project is not simply a way of connecting people from one end of town to the other,” Perez said. “It’s a way of building community. And it’s not just building bricks and mortar, it’s building opportunity.”

Measure R Funding

At a roundtable talk with Perez, Miller said the Building Trades helped to drive the funding that makes the work possible. “When the Building Trades, Metro and the community created a coalition with to pass Measure R in 2008, we were an unstoppable force for transit in Los Angeles,” Miller said. “And when the Building Trades joined our partners again in 2011 to pass a Project Labor Agreement for $40 billion in work, our mission was to bring good jobs to Los Angeles.”

After the roundtable, the Secretary put on a white Metro hard hat and a safety vest, and joined Laborers Local 300 apprentice LeDaya Epps, 37, for a tour of the future Expo/Crenshaw station.

The Metro PLA aims to bring opportunities to people from disadvantaged backgrounds, including single parents such as Epps. She completed a pre-apprenticeship “boot camp” in order to move up to apprenticeship.
“I’m looking forward to working hard, building a career as a Laborer and being able to provide for myself and my family,” Epps told Perez.

Always Proud to Work

Perez told the apprentice that he started his career by working at jobs that left him exhausted at the end of the day. “I grew up working various jobs, and I always was proud of the jobs I worked, whether it was when I worked on the back of a trash truck, or when I worked at Sears, or when I worked picking up golf balls. I was always proud of it. There’s dignity in work.”

“I’m raising three kids,” Epps said. “And to be able to have benefits and not be living check to check—I can provide and save at the same time. I’m working now. I just feel so blessed to be working. I hope to be on this job until the end.”

Others at the roundtable said a PLA can be a powerful tool for bringing workers from many different backgrounds into the Building Trades. “We want to make sure that the project looks like the community we’re working in,” said Erich Engler, business manager for general contractor Walsh-Shea Corridor Constructors.

A Ticket to the Middle Class

Metro Board Member Jacquelyn Dupont-Walker said good jobs enhance the life of a city. “We are working in tandem with community stakeholders to make sure this will be a model for how we can do transportation and create a vital community.”

Perez said Epps’s story shows PLAs at their best. “This is a great model. What LeDaya is in the process of doing, frankly, is punching her ticket to the middle class.

“You inspire us to make sure that we can replicate our investments like this,” Perez told Epps. “It’s always a proud moment to be part of building your community, and so I say congratulations. We’re going to keep fighting to make sure we can do this elsewhere.”


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