Building Trades Seek $4 Billion Annually for Infrastructure

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

The U.S. needs to spend $4 billion yearly, four times as much as the Trump administration requested, for infrastructure repairs, the president of North America’s Building Trades Unions said.

And that’s what the unions will lobby for, added NABTU President Sean McGarvey. And there must be “a dedicated funding source,” including an increased federal gasoline tax, to provide the money, he contended.

McGarvey and construction union presidents James Callahan of the Operating Engineers, Robert Martinez of the Machinists and Lonnie Stephenson of the Electrical Workers made the case for more money at an Oct. 23 press conference during the AFL-CIO Convention in St. Louis.

Despite the recovery from the Great Recession, the U.S. still has great unmet infrastructure needs, the four said. They include old water pipes, underground utilities which break down, cracking and decaying roads and a creaky electrical grid.

“We’re concerned about the funding, but also with the underground subsystems,” Callahan said. They’re “the sewers, the electrical lines and what’s below the roads. That’s why we’re trying to get a permanent (fiscal) ‘lockbox,’ both for funding structures and for hiring enough people.”

Repairing all that via a federal infrastructure law would put and keep even more construction workers on the job. 

There has been a distinct change in construction employment, McGarvey and the others admitted, from the depths of the Great Recession. Construction joblessness hit a high of 2.44 million in February 2010, and the construction jobless rate that month was 27.1 percent. The September 2017 data, the latest available, show 433,000 jobless construction workers (4.7 percent).

The Trump administration has yet to produce a detailed infrastructure plan, though congressional committees have held hearings on the nation’s needs. And McGarvey said his department has been working with both the White House and three business groups – the Business Roundtable, the National Association of Manufacturers and the Chamber of Commerce – on crafting legislation.

The Chamber traditionally allied with the construction unions in pushing for infrastructure spending.

But the administration has also floated the idea of funding all infrastructure improvements at the $1 billion level and only through the partnerships, rather than direct federal spending. That’s produced criticism the money would flow into Wall Streeters’ pockets rather than to rebuilding the country.

McGarvey floated a third idea for funding infrastructure repairs: Using negotiations on the pending tax bill to produce “a huge repatriation payment” of corporate profits now stashed overseas to escape U.S. taxes.

 He said that, despite appearances, both the administration and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., are fully engaged on the infrastructure issue.

There’s another reason the construction unions are pushing infrastructure spending, the four presidents said: Apprenticeships. They pointed out training new apprentices is absolutely needed not just to build the projects but to replace the tens of thousands of Baby Boomer construction workers who retire every year.

At the same time, apprenticeships are also vital to increasing participation by women, minorities and veterans in construction, which is still a white male-dominated field. Federal data show 3 percent of construction workers are women, 6.8 percent are African-American, 1.7 percent are Asian-American and 34 percent are Latino.

That led McGarvey and several other construction union leaders to join a Trump administration advisory task force on increasing apprenticeships. “The administration views” union apprenticeship programs “as a model” for the industry, McGarvey claimed. Though he did not say so, the administration also proposed a budget cut in federal apprenticeship aid.

But even more apprentices won’t fill the workplace void, the union presidents said. That will occur only when construction firms, notably non-union firms, pay their workers what they’re worth. A pay rate of $15 an hour, for a worker with a family of four or “women of color with kids” is not enough, McGarvey and Stephenson said.

“As long as these companies go higher” than that “we can get them the workforce. What we don’t have a guarantee on is jobs. And we’ve got to make sure our contractors are competitive.”                   

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Posted In: Allied Approaches, From Press Associates

Union Matters

Get to Know AFL-CIO's Affiliates: National Association of Letter Carriers

From the AFL-CIO

Next up in our series that takes a deeper look at each of our affiliates is the National Association of Letter Carriers.

Name of Union: National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC)

Mission: To unite fraternally all city letter carriers employed by the U.S. Postal Service for their mutual benefit; to obtain and secure rights as employees of the USPS and to strive at all times to promote the safety and the welfare of every member; to strive for the constant improvement of the Postal Service; and for other purposes. NALC is a single-craft union and is the sole collective-bargaining agent for city letter carriers.

Current Leadership of Union: Fredric V. Rolando serves as president of NALC, after being sworn in as the union's 18th president in 2009. Rolando began his career as a letter carrier in 1978 in South Miami before moving to Sarasota in 1984. He was elected president of Branch 2148 in 1988 and served in that role until 1999. In the ensuing years, he worked in various roles for NALC before winning his election as a national officer in 2002, when he was elected director of city delivery. In 2006, he won election as executive vice president. Rolando was re-elected as NALC president in 2010, 2014 and 2018.

Brian Renfroe serves as executive vice president, Lew Drass as vice president, Nicole Rhine as secretary-treasurer, Paul Barner as assistant secretary-treasurer, Christopher Jackson as director of city delivery, Manuel L. Peralta Jr. as director of safety and health, Dan Toth as director of retired members, Stephanie Stewart as director of the Health Benefit Plan and James W. “Jim” Yates as director of life insurance.

Number of Members: 291,000 active and retired letter carriers.

Members Work As: City letter carriers.

Industries Represented: The United States Postal Service.

History: In 1794, the first letter carriers were appointed by Congress as the implementation of the new U.S. Constitution was being put into effect. By the time of the Civil War, free delivery of city mail was established and letter carriers successfully concluded a campaign for the eight-hour workday in 1888. The next year, letter carriers came together in Milwaukee and the National Association of Letter Carriers was formed.

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