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The Building Trades “Our Movement – Our Moment” Convention Anthem: Yet Another BS Slogan?

Since Georgine in the 70’s right through to this year’s conference, we hear hollow slogans crafted for the masses. If the slogan was indicative of a strategy, it would be backed up with structure. We challenge you to go to NABTU website or anywhere and find structured strategy to back up “Our Movement – Our Moment” talk! NABTU doesn’t even update its website with the new slogan – “Whatever it Takes” and “Value Centric” are still posted.

The Rank & File agents heard yet more “rah rah” promises from politicians speaking. Regardless of position to the right or left, THIS IS NOT what a LABOR MOVEMENT depends on. A true labor movement drives change – it does NOT hope for change. Hope as a strategy is for fools!

Labor Rising has documented other unions in our blogs, predominantly led by women presidents who are kicking butt in organizing. Starbucks Workers United, an independent affiliate of the Service Employees International Union is out in the field organizing & driving change. Brother Smalls’ Amazon Labor Union is independent entirely at this point & is driving change. Apple? Several others. Unions are cool again with workers especially millennials. Yet the trades fail to capitalize because EVERYONE knows (especially workers) we are business unions and NOT workers’ unions. And no slogan is going to change that!

Do the trades’ senior leaders think they can ride this current wave of true union organizing? If so, they are in fantasy land!

The trades across the board can barely GIVE books away just to maintain membership numbers. Over one million tradespersons are currently needed in North American construction; and the directors of organizing across the trades can’t raise numbers or organize a sock drawer. They continually and consistently lose. It is only through recruitment, pulling in bodies from failed campaigns, that the membership numbers stay afloat. However, retention continues to slip. The trades are under one million field members “NET”.

Those who are recruited have traditionally put their book in their boot when needed, not much different than our home-grown tradespersons. I’ll use the word trend, however LR falls just short of enough info to call it a trend on REINSTATEMENTS. Intel across the trades describes scenarios where former members are NOT being reinstated. Makes us wonder – are the trades’ internationals using the pension forfeitures to shore up underfunded pensions?  If so, this is like throwing a snowball into a raging fire!

Pensions are slipping underwater more and more, even with legislation designed to prop them up. For an example check out the Update – American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (“ARPA”) ARPA’s Impact on Multi-employer Pension Plans and Contributing Employers written by the National Law Review.

ARPA’s legislation follows up The Taft Hartley Pension Reform Act of 2014.

If you are a union member contributing to a pension coming, you may want to read this! Basically, through legislation our pensions are taking out additional credit on existing credit to smooth out severe underfunding. With hours sliding – pensions will fail. Far too many unions promised benefits they could not afford in the 1990’s & 2000’s. Its pretty straight forward math.

By the end of this decade, hours will increasingly be harder to come by. With modularization, miniaturization, block chain, updated operating systems and more, where do the IPs think the hours will come from?

From Georgine thru today the trades’ IPs have aligned with management alliances to provide bodies. The IPs from then till now have changed the respective constitutions to crush any attempts of membership democracies. Members have close to zero input as to who their national leaders are. Locals and District Councils can be taken over or eliminated summarily.

We see concessions and capitulations on PLA after PLA since the 70’s. THE TRADES HAVE NOT WON OR ADVANCED ONE MAJOR PIECE OF A WORKER’S AGENDA IN 60 YEARS – NOT ONE!

Organizers like Brent Emons, Paul Long, Mike Lucas and scores of others who were passionate organizers well into the 90’s and even early 2000’s have long been purged from organizing. Training for both organizing and Value on Display marketing is designed to keep the troops busy and out of the way of the labor-management alliances, but it is not effective. So, how do we explain the spectacular failure of organizers and marketing reps unless they are being groomed to fail?

We have plenty of Chris Smalls of Amazon in the ranks; however, the trades’ organizers are not allowed to get after the wallets of the end-users, developers, CM’s. Here’s the point —the sycophants of the respective IPs WILL derail true labor organizing, militancy, boycotts, strikes, etc., as ordered by their task masters, the IPs, who themselves have a task master called management.

Nothing can get in the way of the senior-most alliances between end-users and the trades – nothing.

The trades’ senior leaders have reduced the R&F to a temp agency; few members join for any reason other than to collect a check.

Labor Rising promised to present our solution to the persistent death spiral the trades are in, and we have waited until the NABTU Conference. The status quo of talking the talk vs. walking the walk has not changed with our IPs. It is theater, photo opts and sound bites for the R&F! Tomorrow and the next day the IPs will do what the management alliances want them to do.

The Electricians are next in convention in May. If they and the other trades are moved to be a MOVEMENT, then walk the walk. Here’s some radical ideas: Adopt one person, one vote in the constitutions. Get rid of prime language that takes away rights of members and locals, doling out cards and continuing to disrespect our apprenticeships. Fight for workers’ rights on and off the job site. Sign & impose CBAs on behalf of workers instead of agreeing to the scraps dictated by a PLA.

Approximately 60% of all hours are under PLAs – Management can WALK away from PLAs at any time.

So, Part 1 of getting back our market share is getting rid of the Carpenters. Declare their jurisdiction vacant. Not happening. Why? Because they belong to the alliance and management will not let the rest of the building trades declare the carpenters’ jurisdiction vacant – case closed.

Part 2 is creating our own specialty construction management firms. Changing times demand changing strategies. Not happening. Why? Because the management side of the alliance will not want any type of competition, least of all from their minions over at the trades. Talk about being able to raise hours – this is the vehicle to do it.

Part 3 is work to the rule! As organizers, we must plan our strategy from start to finish. Without that plan we lose far more times than we win. Work to the rule is typically used in organizing the non/anti-union workers. It gives those workers control over an aspect of their working lives.

The trades need to adopt WORK to the RULE with regards to safety on the job and only safety. Working to the LETTER of safety, not the spirit of safety. Every time we step onto a job, we are handed scores of documents and confronted with training that states we WILL be safety compliant to the letter of those documents.

Once we sustain an injury, we are held to the letter of the documents we signed. Approximately a decade or so ago big construction figured out how to make money/profits off of injuries on the job. We’re not talking about making money by having a better safety record – but an actual profit center: OCIP – Owner Controlled Insurance Program & CCIP – Contractor Controlled Insurance Program.

OCIP & CCIP came into being partly because of changes in workers comp law. One of those changes is called Comparative Negligence. States’ workers comp rules apply it differently. In a nutshell, an injured worker’s award of damages is reduced reflecting any percentage of fault deemed to be the worker’s contribution to the injury.

Example: An award of damages is $100,000 and the worker is deemed to have contributed 25% to causing the accident, so the worker gets $75,000. In some states, once the threshold of the worker’s fault reaches 51% or higher, the worker gets no award of damages – zero.

We should no longer post a “look out” to watch for the safety officer, driven by thinking we know more about how to do our jobs than they do (even though we do!) Safety is the point, not our professional egos. Let’s show our IPs and management that we can work to the letter of safety, leaving “the spirit of safety” at home. ZERO accidents.

Let management tell us specifically how to do the job from the safety perspective. Put it in writing. We want them documenting all of our moves. Frankly, we don’t get paid more for re-engineering the job more efficiently; and, when injured, we and our families are penalized by comparative negligence as a matter of course. When a worker says they got f*^ked after a case is settled, overwhelmingly this is the reason why. So, be sure that all safety documentation is used for your benefit and not to limit or disqualify you and your family from being compensated if injured.

Come to think of it – every journeyperson reading this that agrees, please share this, and let every tradesperson know to be safe.

Example: You use a folding ladder; it is on an incline and you get hurt. Any injury, not just falling from the ladder, will be held up to the comparative negligence standard.

Example: You have signed off on inspecting the JLG – sometimes every time we use it – so do it. If the paperwork for the inspection hasn’t been completed, do not use it. We often think that when working to the spirit of safety rules, we are ok. But there are volumes upon volumes of injury cases that dispute that thinking.

Example: The Standards of Excellence for some unions say we are to bring and use our own personal tools. Think that through. If your safety harness has expired or there are visible burn and cut marks, what happens if an injury occurs? What about an expired hardhat? Or tools that are altered, like grinding the jaw of a crescent? You will be held up to the safety documents you signed, and you will not like the outcome. Good faith is long gone. As for me, I’d have the safety officer sign off on all tools I use – my own or the company’s. Question, do our respective internationals educate us on that? Labor Rising has yet to find any evidence; but if you have some please share the specifics. And, by the way, are our internationals at fault if our own tools fail?

The Rank & File should own the jobs, not management. However, management sets the terms, and we should follow them to the letter in all cases while on the job – every time.

If we are following their rules, we can’t be disciplined whatsoever. Anyone who might suggest that we go with the flow or work outside the rules, name them in the injury lawsuit.

With construction across North American being over one million workers short, just follow the rules to the letter. There is no one to take your job.

Remember anyone can shut the job down if safety is not followed – management says it all the time.

This is especially important when the end-user’s production is at risk. Safety officers seem to disappear when production is at risk. Get specific directions in writing with the proper training or don’t do it!

When we all follow the safety rules on the job, we can make a lasting positive imprint on both our IPs and management.

We will discuss this in more detail in upcoming blogs and also show the state of union trades’ pensions.

“if you see a good fight – get in it-

Danny L Caliendo

Labor Rising


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