Building and Construction Trades Council
October/November 2001 IBEW Journal
International President Ed Hill, International Secretary-Treasurer Jerry O'Connor, brothers and sisters, officers and guests. Thank you to the Ninth District for that great applause for me.
You know, I never thought I would stand here before my IBEW brothers and sisters as we face the greatest attack on our nation since Pearl Harbor. I'm convinced our country will survive this atrocity and we'll get the bastards that did this to us.
35 years ago, when I started my career as an apprentice in Orange County, I never dreamed that I would have an opportunity to speak to my brothers and sisters at an IBEW convention. It's an incredible honor. And, yes, my dues are still paid up. I'm still an active member of IBEW Local 441.
In my job as President of the State Building and Construction Trades Council, I've had the honor to represent a wide variety of construction unions, but I've never forgotten where I started. I've never forgotten how proud it made me to become a member of the IBEW so many years ago.
What is it about electricians? What is it that makes them so tough, so loyal and determined? When we needed help in California, we knew who to call. When we fought Proposition 226, the so-called Paycheck Protection Act, the IBEW was front and center. When we marched on the State Capitol to get the prevailing wage, the IBEW members were at the front of the charge yelling louder than anyone. And when Governor Gray Davis, a true friend of organized labor, was campaigning, IBEW members were everywhere making sure he got elected. And as we dig out and rebuild from this atrocity, the IBEW members will be there to make sure that it happens and it's done right.
Our union knows how to get the job done. You've been a tremendous support for me and you've made me even prouder of my being a member of the IBEW.
I'd just like to take a second to give special credit to a good friend of mine, Mike Mowrey, the Ninth District International Vice President who has provided great leadership to the IBEW and to CURE, the California Unions for Reliable Energy. His good judgment and strong ideals have been a Godsend to the labor movement in California. Thank you, Mike.
In California, construction unions in the last year have seen full employment. Commercial buildings, residential construction, major power plants and highway construction are being built at record rates. This construction doesn't just provide new buildings and construction jobs, it creates the businesses for thousands of workers. It's really what makes the economy grow.
You know, as construction workers, we build things, we don't destroy them.
Today's construction jobs are outstanding careers with good pay, pensions and health benefits, all of which makes construction an engine for California's economy, the fifth largest economy in the world. It also makes us the envy of some in the world who would take that away from us.
Despite a slowdown in our nation's economy, our state continues to enjoy robust growth, largely because of the continuing construction boom. The IBEW knows that providing highly skilled and well-trained workers is no accident. To supply the workers that are necessary to build the state's energy supply, infrastructure, California labor unions spend over $200 million a year to operate major apprenticeship programs all over the state.
With over 57,000 apprentices enrolled in union programs, this represents 91 percent of all students in training in the state of California -- 91 percent. And the ABC claims they lead the way?
But full employment isn't the only story. What's even more important is the construction workers are building the state out of this energy crisis. Union members are actively involved in building these power plants under PLAs. This summer three major power plants opened in the state, all of them built with a hundred-percent union labor using project labor agreements; and they were built on time, on schedule, with no serious labor problems, and under budget.
It's important to note that these PLAs aren't the typical PLA that you see. They require every subcontractor to sign the local union's master labor agreement. They are a huge top-down organizing tool.
Instead of blackouts, this state's enjoyed a summer in which new power was provided at record rates, while our state's citizens conserved energy as never before. Twenty-three new power plants are in the pipeline and each of these is going to be built with a PLA. They will supply power reserves for the next decade in California.
Not only will this protect the state from the price gouging and the manipulation that we've endured this year, it will provide millions of hours of work. How many millions? Twenty million hours of construction work and another 8 million hours of maintenance work.
But it's no accident that these projects are being built with union labor. The owners of these projects have a history of using non-union labor throughout the country. So what made the difference? CURE, the California Unions for Reliable Energy.
CURE is an organization that was formed by the IBEW construction branch, the IBEW utility branch, the Boilermakers and the UA; and I'm proud to be its chairman.
This group is committed to protecting the environment and making sure that the plants are built safely with union labor at full wages and benefits. CURE's provided a unique and innovative approach that has worked successfully. The construction branch and the utility branch realizing that they had a common cause in deregulation joined together in this fight and formed CURE. The PLAs and neutrality agreements that were negotiated by CURE ensure that the IBEW utility was given the exclusive right to organize the plants' operators. And the IBEW construction branch got the construction of all 23 of these plants, plus the maintenance for the entire life of these plants, 30-year agreements.
So how did CURE do this? CURE filed environmental interventions when necessary and always sought positive resolutions of the issues. The processes worked and it doesn't slow down a job.
A good example, a 550-megawatt plant that was recently completed in Yuba City for CalPine -- by the way, in California CalPine builds all of its plants a hundred-percent union. But it didn't start out that way.
CURE filed an intervention with that project to force CalPine to build an air-cooled plant instead of a water-cooled plant. The area has scarce groundwater and the original plan would have used 2,000 gallons of water a day. It cost the company a little more to make the plant air cooled -- as a matter of fact, about $5 million more -- but the environmental improvements required by CURE made the plant one of the cleanest in the country. It now only uses 50 gallons of water a day. It raised the bar for clean air standards for all power plants in California; and it created a hell of a lot more work for our members.
By the way, I think you heard Governor Davis yesterday talk about the fact that CalPine earned a million-dollar bonus for finishing this plant ahead of schedule. Because it was finished ahead of schedule, it allowed them to sell electricity early, helping to solve the energy crisis.
CalPine wasn't happy about CURE in the beginning; but they're sure happy with the results of this project in the end.
CURE's been a huge success. It's provided more jobs, cleaner air and water, and provided a sound basis for long-term economic growth. And more important, CURE never, never compromises on environmental issues. That stubbornness has gained unions the respect and admiration of regulatory bodies and environmental groups across the state.
From these successes, a growing, powerful coalition of unions and environmental groups has emerged. You think about it. All of us care about the fragile environment and the finite resources that we've got to protect. If we use up our precious water or destroy our air, there won't be jobs for anyone, including construction workers. So now, even the Sierra Club is publicly supporting union construction and the use of project labor agreements.
Why is that? Because the nation's oldest environmental organization knows that union workers and PLAs are the best source of skill and quality workers to build clean and efficient power plants. We think that it makes good economic sense and good negotiating sense to stay on top of environmental issues, while we secure as much work as possible for our members.
We know we have to make the best use of our finite natural resources to make growth a reality. We have to build the cleanest power plants to protect our environment, and we must create the most jobs that we can with the limited resources that are available. In some ways, it's a new way to think about how we operate as a trade union. But it makes sense if you think about it.
We can create jobs and work for our members and still maintain the environment. These are huge successes, and I'm very proud of them. But our victories are tempered today by the reality of the attack on America by foreign terrorists.
Sixty years ago, American unions answered the call and helped our nation win a great war; and today, we must answer that call again. For awhile, we must moderate our differences with President Bush and support him fully to answer this challenge to Americans' freedom. There will come a time when we may disagree with President Bush on many issues. But for now, we must all stand together as Americans, just as unions have always done.
Everyone in this great hall is a leader in their union and in their community. And our loyalty is deep and sincere, but it is not blind. I repeat that: It's not blind. As leaders, we must be vigilant of our freedom as we're supporting our government because chaos creates situation where some may try to take undue advantage of those potential liberties and take away our freedom. We must not and will not let that happen. If there was ever a time for us as Americans to demonstrate our moral resolve and individual toughness, it is today. If there's a time for our country's union leaders to stand up and be counted, it is today. So join me in standing up and show that we will not be intimidated by those bastards that will steal our freedom. Thank you very much.
California BCTD President