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The Same Building Trades Hacks Who Sunk the Pensions Sunk Organizing –

Hacks is as strong a term as I can find given the circumstances of my generation of leaders – starting in approximately 1970 and persisting through today. Let us see if it unfortunately fits! Many times, in our Blogs, Labor Rising has been less than flattering to senior Building Trade leadership. Read on and you will see precisely why!

The Coronavirus stimulus package was passed last Friday with zero major multi-employer pension funding relief in it. Republicans won’t provide relief because all indicators point to them using the Trojan Horse of underfunded pensions as a way to eight-six unions, including the trades. And Democrats, most likely, are using it now, as in the past, as bargaining leverage. Yep – bargaining leverage. All evidence points to unions being used to further other agendas. MAYBE PBGC relief can be squeezed into an upcoming stimulus package. That is doubtful, and even if so, the PBGC would only fund $0.30 cents on the dollar of insolvent pensions. For several years now the union pension “can” has been kicked down the road even by Democrats. This disaster of under-funding has been on the radar screen since the late 90’s.

I know this because I spoke to large numbers of pension trustees back then in over 80 forums, from the late 90’s until 2008. At these forums only a few trustees were in attendance because so many of them were out and about on fund money sightseeing, golfing, drinking, etc.!

I use the term hacks because that’s what the majority of trustees were then! When I read comments, even today, on Facebook saying that the government and markets sunk our pensions, I know I’m dealing with an uninformed member and/or a politician – and perhaps even a current day hack repeating national BT’s and Internationals’ talking points. THEY are playing the VICTIM well! Labor Rising has personally gone through nearly 250 multi-employer pension filings and knows firsthand how the “hacks” paid out huge amounts of benefits that would not be covered long term. In nearly every organizing training class Labor Rising teaches, we help organizers understand and address how to deal with the underfunded pension issue should it exist.

And to be fair, the trustees minted after approximately 2006 are far better trustees than in my generation of the 70’s, 80’s & 90’s. They are left with the underfunded mess of “where are we going to find the money” vs. in my day “what are we going to do with the money?”

As members, we can’t say what my generation said, “Put the money on the check” for over 30 years and then near retirement time throw in a few bucks in contributions for a few years and think we can sustain 100% – 300% increases of benefits for 25 – 30 years in retirement. The math has NEVER worked out!

Why is Labor Rising so adamant in stating this? It is for the following reasons:

  • We have to own up to the under-funding. As long as we play victims and blame everyone but ourselves, we will never be trusted. We were all taught to “man/woman” up to bad actors, even in our own house, and take responsibility for our actions. To quote President Eisenhower, “Leadership consists of nothing but taking responsibility for everything that goes wrong and giving your subordinates credit for everything that goes well.” Until this happens, the non-union and union workers know we are “leaders” without integrity! More accurately, we are piss poor politicians and most likely even worse – modern day hacks. Many members didn’t know they were in fact digging their own graves of under-funding – but trustees of my generation absolutely knew.
  • The numbers correlate very highly that where pensions are in trouble with funding levels today, those same locals/DCs/Internationals also failed to keep market share. Reverse engineer the numbers and see if that isn’t true. They were thug officers/organizers at best and coasted on the shoulders of the Founders! They failed as leaders across the board.
  • Quite a few of those local/DC leaders are still around today, many in high office. And unbelievably many of the wannabe leaders of today still come from this cast. Albert Einstein once said, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” Our combined Building Trades culture is compliant to management granting concession after concession! The trades have “NO” winning strategy to date!
  • COVID-19 is likely going to hurt at a historical level. All of labor, but especially the trades, can reshape the current culture shaped by decades of losing market share and being the stooges of management. A MOVEMENT of workers borne out of a disaster would put us collectively back in the good graces of the Founders! For those taught about cyber-organizing by Labor Rising – this is the time to use it. With most workers being at home, now is the time to put that tactic to use! Talk/via technology to increasing numbers of workers and extract huge amounts of info from the worker along with their fears and hopes. As importantly, extract the info on the contractors up and down the chain from the end-user to the sub. Find every Achilles heel and plan from there. We at Labor Rising call it a Compression Zone, knowing exactly who to work with – or to put down hard.

Unlike the Miners back in the day with Black Lung disease, where the miners wanted better for their families and traded their life for that chance, COVID-19 is worse. It will take entire families and communities given the chance! Workers, union or not, need a collective voice. A leader who can acknowledge past transgressions and move to fix them, should be in power now! Dump the dead weight of senior leaders, rank & file! Carpe diem, seize the day! Both workers and country WILL be better off! Example: Some underfunded funds, should they get to 140% of funding, can elect to buy an annuity. I use this example because management “if working in good faith” can structure jobs and even PLA’s to help that happen. That would be labor-management cooperation. And to date I have NOT seen one article or notice to that fact from any of the BT affiliates. If someone’s got one – please post it in comments. Purchasing an annuity is NOT ideal; however, it may very well be far better than an insolvent pension and insolvent PBGC. I pray/hope (not a good strategy mind you) that The Butch-Lewis Act can pass. It also has some issues and depends on what the final version looks like to fully understand it – or does it just kick the pension can down the road?          

  • Increasing contractors and workers via true organizing, along with going toe to toe with the anti-union, when needed, is the only way to insure a middle class. Coming out of COVID-19, even the BT may very well be reduced to being working class if Value on Display remains as the go-to strategy of the trades.

We need a return to the Building Trades with a foundation of integrity and leadership on behalf of all workers. “ALL” that stands between that goal and the present is a BS culture that has long outlived its time!

Ironically, Labor Rising is reminded that BT unions mostly came about to bury those workers killed on the job. History is reminding us that we have a mission and selling bodies and hours isn’t It! Changing the conditions of all workers for the better – is!

“if you see a good fight – get in it”

Danny L Caliendo


Labor Rising

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