Following are excerpts of comments made by AFL-CIO Building Trades Department President Mark Ayers to the 2010 Building Trades Legislative Conference in Washington D.C., held April 19-22.
“Today we meet in this great hall at a pivotal time in American history and in the history of America’s Building Trades Unions.
Together, as Americans and as trade unionists we must decide whether to wither in the face of our current economic adversity or work like hell to wrestle it into submission. I am not going to stand at this podium today and tell you about the dreadful unemployment situation in our industry. You live this nightmare everyday and it’s embodied in the faces of our members as they turn to you for help.
During far worse times Americans have persevered, rebuilt, dug in, and lifted their nation and themselves upward. And we can do it again.
In his first inaugural address at the peak of the Great Depression Franklin Roosevelt summoned the spirit of American resilience when he said, and I quote: “We are stricken by no plague of locusts. “Compared with the perils which our forefathers conquered because they believed and were not afraid “we have still much to be thankful for.”
Indeed, we are not in denial about the poisonous and reprehensible behaviors of the Wall Street money-changers and eight years of an administration that had hopes of eradicating unions. Together they have torn a gaping hole in the financial fabric of our nation and our very existence as the stalwarts of the middle class.
And we aren’t in denial about the ugly state of American politics that has left us frustrated in trying to figure out who our true friends are. But as in the past, it will be American working people you, me, and the good people we are privileged to represent whose spirit, skill, and determination will lift us up and deliver us to a better and more economically secure future.
The American economic recovery, although showing positive signs of improvement, will be neither painless nor short-term. But I challenge each and every one of us to put our shoulders to the wheel and work with renewed vigor on job-creating programs and policies that offer our members real hope.
Of course, the biggest legislative gorilla on Capitol Hill this year was the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act – the health care bill. As adopted, it is far from perfect. But it is nevertheless a huge step forward in controlling runaway health insurance costs, stopping cost-shifting to our plans, and providing a basic human right to over 30 million uninsured Americans.
We applaud President Obama for taking on such a tough fight but this fight is not over for us. We will continue to push for employer mandates in the construction industry that level the playing field for small union employers – the life blood of our unions…and for a public option that will provide real competition to insurance companies.
Ladies and gentlemen, the rancorous debate over health care has taken our attention off of other critical issues. Issues that are vitally important to the Building Trades and to all Americans.
I’m talking about legislation that will create urgently-needed jobs for working families. For example, a balanced energy and climate bill that will generate tens of thousands of construction jobs for our members now and in the future has languished in the United States Senate.
Our unions are also working hard on several smaller – but vitally important jobs bills including legislation that contains extensions of our members’ benefits under COBRA providing longer unemployment insurance coverage and helping spur highway and bridge projects.
One of those jobs bills The HIRE Act was signed by the President on March 17 of this year.
Finally, our unions stand firmly in favor of the financial reform effort now being debated on Capitol Hill. Our industry will only see significant growth when the spigot of private investment opens once again for commercial and residential development.
Major projects across the country are stalled because this spigot was turned off during the financial crisis. These projects stand in the skylines of our cities incomplete and silent like ghostly monuments to another age.
We must get those projects rolling again and financial reform legislation will help provide the structure and the certainty that is necessary to attract new private investments in all types of projects.
Brothers and sisters, the lack of capital and healthy credit flow are strangling our industry. And it is exactly why we need our elected leaders to rise above politics and focus on job creation…NOW.
As is often said in construction “it’s time to knock off the bullshit.” Jobs are neither Democratic nor Republican. They are American. American workers are not asking for handouts…far from it. The labor movement has always asserted that the most basic civil right of all Americans is their right to earn their own way.