With construction unemployment hovering around 15%, a presidential election on the horizon and the sudden death of BCTD head Mark Ayers fresh in the minds of union leaders who gathered in Washington, D.C. for the Building and Construction Trades Department's Legislative Conference, the mood was subdued yet purposeful.
BCTD President Sean McGarvey set the tone in his keynote address on April 30th, shortly before welcoming President Barack Obama to the program. Looking ahead to November, McGarvey said, "Thank God we had the steady hand of Barack Obama at the helm when not just our nation, but the entire globe, was on the verge of economic collapse… We haven't agreed with every decision he has made, but the overall results are hard to argue with. Businesses have created nearly 3.7 million private sector jobs in the past 23 months; the U.S. auto industry has added nearly 160,000 jobs, which means many of our members are back at work re-tooling and maintaining U.S. auto plants; American manufacturers have added 334,000 jobs in the past two years, meaning many of our members are at work building and modernizing manufacturing plants… And President Obama's middle-class tax cuts are providing tax relief for 160 million workers to help strengthen the economy. At the Department of Labor, Davis-Bacon enforcements are on the rise; as are new initiatives to stem the practice of misclassifying workers and abusing federal visa programs." McGarvey also called on Congress to pass the stalled transportation infrastructure bill that would fund construction and transit projects and create millions of jobs for building trades members (see update on the bill's passage and signing, page 7), a sentiment that was echoed by virtually every speaker who followed.
Before taking the stage, Obama met with the BCTD's Governing Board of Presidents, including BAC President James Boland, taking the occasion to warmly thank Boland for BAC's endorsement the week before.
In his remarks, Obama acknowledged the recession's unacceptable toll on the nation's 2.5 million union construction workers. "Members of the building trades have suffered more than most. That makes no sense at a time when there's so much work to be done," said the President, referring to the huge number of roads, schools, bridges and public buildings "in desperate need of repair. The worst part about it is, we could be doing something about it," he added, chalking up another job creating measure in the grip of congressional gridlock.
The President also pointed to anti-union trends in Wisconsin, Ohio, and Michigan to curb collective-bargaining rights. "What's their big economic plan in addition to tax cuts for rich folks? It's dismantling your union," he said.
Obama's remarks drew cheers throughout and a spirited standing ovation as he concluded. Attendees spent the remainder of the Conference lobbying their respective members of Congress on Capitol Hill, attending educational workshops on topics such as Davis-Bacon enforcement, pension reform, and hydraulic fracturing technology, and hearing from a diverse roster of speakers that included Republican Congressmen Jon Runyan (NY) and Michael Grimm (NY), and Department of Labor Secretary Hilda Solis.