By Mark Gruenberg
PAI Staff Writer
WASHINGTON (PAI)--Building trades workers must create a bipartisan political "building trades majority" at both the federal and state levels to campaign for more infrastructure spending and for creating jobs, North America's Building Trades President Sean McGarvey says.
And while they've often succeeded in doing so in the halls of Congress, there's still a lot of work to be done, particularly in state legislatures, he added.
McGarvey laid out that goal in his keynote address to America's Building Trades Union's Legislative-Political Conference, meeting in Washington on April 18-20.
The 3,000 conference delegates later lobbied federal lawmakers for more public infrastructure investments, for retaining prevailing wage laws and in support of project labor agreements on publicly funded construction.
All those measures would continue the recent growth in the building trades, now that the nation is hauling itself out of the Great Recession, McGarvey stated.
"We now enjoy bipartisan unprecedented support in Congress," he explained, where right-wing Republican attempts to kill the Davis-Bacon prevailing wage law and to ban PLAs now routinely lose. In past years, Davis-Bacon repeal sometimes won in the House and died in the Senate.
"Our issues can and do resonate with lawmakers from both parties," particularly on rebuilding and repairing the nation's highways, bridges, airports and subways, he said. Public construction spending is $300 billion yearly, he noted, and private construction spending -- mostly on residences and factories -- is $800 billion yearly.
"But that's not happening in all areas. We frequently fall victim to outdated left-right assumptions," at the state level, where politicians slash infrastructure spending and trash workers' rights. Though McGarvey specifically did not say so, an overwhelming majority of those offending politicians are Republicans.
The politicians also assume that construction unions and their members have the same overwhelmingly Democratic political leanings as other unionists, McGarvey noted, "so we continue to find ourselves in fights not of our own making."
To counter that perception, McGarvey urged his fellow unionists to, when they return home, lobby state and local lawmakers for building trades issues -- and to back candidates this fall who will consistently do so. They would be the building trades majority he spoke of. But he also told the crowd of activists that they'll have to overcome justified anger by their members at declining living standards, before and since the Great Recession. The nation's political elites are only now aware of that anger, he said.
The anger "is because they" -- the elites -- "have enacted policies, or failed to enact policies, that have harmed middle-class families. Middle-class Americans are tired of declining wages. They want their economic security back and they want economic security now.
"That resonates nationally," he said, in an oblique reference to the U.S. presidential primary campaigns, "but it doesn't recur on the state and local levels."
And he faulted both parties for that, noting two-thirds of congressional Democrats favored "destructive policies for our members who work in energy modes every day."
That statement referred to Democrats' support for environmental issues, notably killing the Keystone XL pipeline from the Montana-Alberta line to a terminal in Guthrie, Okla. The building trades strongly pushed for the pipeline.
Six construction unions signed a project labor agreement with pipeline sponsor TransCanada years ago to have union workers build it. The pipeline would have carried 800,000 barrels daily of heavy oil from Canada (700,000 barrels) and Montana and South Dakota (100,000 barrels) to Guthrie and, later, to U.S. Gulf Coast refineries.
But environmentalists and several other unions vigorously opposed Keystone, arguing that it would create few jobs -- the Building Trades said it would create 20,000-40,000 -- and would release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, increasing global warming. President Barack Obama, after years of delays, vetoed the permit for Keystone's construction.
And, using Obama as an example, McGarvey warned the unionists that just electing a president -- former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been endorsed by the building trades -- is not enough.
"Rest assured, we will deploy Hardhats for Hillary," he declared, the day before Clinton spoke to the conference and received rousing ovations. "But Hillary Clinton will not be our business agent and will not do it for us. Only we can.
"We must act strategically. We have planted the seeds" for further building trades union growth. "Now it's time to tend the fields and reap the harvest."