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May 2020

The Front Line: Politics & Jobs
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Trump Slashes Navy Ship Orders,
Threatens to Cancel Shipyard CBAs

President Trump's 2021 budget cuts new ship construction by 20%, killing 10 new ships, some of which were set for construction this year. The cancellations put thousands of shipyard jobs at risk, including many IBEW jobs.

The cancellation follows closely on a Feb. 20 executive order that would allow the Defense Department to abolish the collective bargaining rights of civilian labor unions.

Trump's budget marks a stark reversal from a commitment less than 12 months ago to increase the fleet by 30% in the next 10 years. The Navy is now on course to fall more than 50 ships short of the two-year-old national strategic target of a 355-vessel fleet.

On the campaign trail, former Vice President and presumptive Democratic nominee for president Joe Biden attacked the last-minute and haphazard budget proposals for their impact on American security and workers.

"China and Russia are aggressively challenging our Navy's ability to project power and to protect American interests. I am committed to continuing to make important investments in our naval fleet with ships like those being built by IBEW members, here in Mississippi and around the country," Biden said.

Biden was also critical of the threat to cancel the contracts and collective bargaining rights of workers.

"He was critical of the threat to tear up collective bargaining rights for good reason: its a sword hanging over every union defense worker," said Government Employees' Director Paul O'Connor. "Trump's version of creating a more efficient and effective government is to strip workplace and labor rights from a million federal employees and their unions."

Taken together, the proposed fleet cancellations and the threat to every collective bargaining agreement in the national security supply chain creates chaos in some of the nation's most important industries, said Political and Legislative Affairs Director Austin Keyser.

"They pose a genuine threat to the livelihood of our members and the safety of our country," Keyser said.

If passed into law, the Trump budget would cancel 10 ships, including a $3.86 billion Virginia-class attack submarine built by members of Groton, Conn., Local 261.

Pascagoula, Miss., Local 733 members expected work on 13 of the Flight III Arleigh Burke destroyers at an average of $1.82 billion each. Five are canceled in the president's budget.

Local 733 also faces the cancellation of C-America Class Amphibious assault ship LHA-9.

Total cuts could rise to $650 million at Pascagoula alone.

The FFG(X) guided-missile frigate and the Common Hull Auxiliary Multi-Mission Platform program are also on the chopping block.

The budget also accelerates the decommissioning of three dock landing ships, four cruisers, and the first four littoral combat ships.

"This is bad for our members. We have been expecting this work. But it is worse for our nation's defense," O'Connor said. "Attack submarines are a primary focus of China and Russia's militaries."

Congressional leaders from both parties attacked the budget proposal, with 17 senators and 109 members of the House signing a letter encouraging the White House to go back to the drawing board.

"Fast attack submarines will help ensure our asymmetric advantage and undersea superiority during a potential conflict with near-peer adversaries," the Senate letter read, adding that a delay would contribute to "supplier instability."

The cuts couldn't have come at a worse time for America's shipyards, O'Connor said. The Navy is about to replace the fleet of nuclear submarines that carry nearly 70% of the ballistic nuclear arsenal.

This monumental undertaking will absorb nearly 40% of the Navy's shipbuilding budget for the next two decades. The 12 Columbia-class submarines will cost in excess of $109 billion.

"Cuts before Columbia gets underway will be difficult to replace," O'Connor said.

And while the budget funds $160 million in shipyard upgrades, that money has been diverted in the recent past, O'Connor said.

"We're already seeing the impact of a failure to invest in the naval maintenance workforce and facilities," he said.

Admiral Michael Gilday, chief of naval operations, recently told Defense News that the Navy is getting less than 40% of its ships out of maintenance on time.

This is an improvement over the early days of the Trump administration when on-time completion rates fell into the 20% range.

The Trump administration has also deferred maintenance on the nation's shipbuilding facilities. One of the more startling shortfalls is at the Norfolk Naval shipyard where the Ship Maintenance Facility has been cited numerous times for life safety violations. One building has been deemed so hazardous fire guards must be posted any time it is used.

Cutting the ships and the submarine on the eve of construction could have long-lasting effects, even if they are eventually restored, O'Connor said. It took substantial political and industrial muscle to get sufficient resources to build two Virginia-class submarines per year, he said.

In addition to the loss of work and jobs at the shipbuilding yards, if construction of surface-ship and submarines is slowed or even interrupted, workers at the four Naval maintenance and repair shipyards would also feel the pinch.

There are IBEW locals at the Portsmouth, Norfolk, Puget Sound and Pearl Harbor maintenance facilities as well as at the Submarine Intermediate Maintenance Facility in Point Loma San Diego.

"We aren't talking about a pair of shoes; these are some of the most technologically sophisticated machines in human history. It takes years to get the feeder industries in place to build a nuclear submarine," O'Connor said.

Any disruption in funding creates tactical and strategic instability which, ultimately, adversely impacts hiring and retaining workers.

"Where do those people go? Do they even stay in the industry or will they take these highly important skills, retool, and get out of the business?" he said. "At the stroke of a pen, Trump has created chaos."


Bremerton, Wash., Local 574 workers at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard & Intermediate Maintenance Facility — like all union defense workers — face the potential loss of their right to collectively bargain after a Feb. 20 executive order issued by the Trump administration.

IBEW Member Wins Maine House Seat

Manchester, Maine, Local 1837 member Kevin O'Connell has been a lot of things throughout his career. Now he can add "member of the state House of Representatives" to his résumé.

"I've known Kevin for a long time. He knows what it's like to be a working person," said Local 1837 Business Manager Dick Rogers. "I think he'll do a great job for the people of our state."

O'Connell won a special election on March 3 to fill a seat that became vacant when the current office holder, Rep. Arthur "Archie" Verow, passed away in December.

A lineman with Emera for 30 years, O'Connell has served in other public service roles including two terms as mayor of Brewer, a city that sits on the boundary of the House district O'Connell now represents. He's also been a city councilor, a school board member and served on a number of other boards and committees.

"I'm proud to carry on the legacy of service that was so important to Archie," O'Connell said. "In him, we had a representative that represented the values of this city. I am committed to doing my best to be that person for Brewer."

Brother O'Connell, who also served in the Maine Air National Guard for 24 years, will bring something unique to the lower chamber in the Pine Tree State: a working person's worldview.

"I look forward to sharing my blue-collar perspective," O'Connell said.

O'Connell racked up 1,403 votes to his Republican rival's 1,017 on election night. In classic IBEW fashion, he was back at work the day after his win.

"It hasn't really sunk in yet," he said. "I just know that I was on my feet for 13 hours on Election Day and then it was time for work the next day."

O'Connell campaigned on housing, infrastructure investments including fixing public roads, and making health care more affordable and accessible. With friends on both sides of the aisle, he says he's looking forward to getting to work in Augusta.

"Kevin recognizes the importance of unions, and of contracts, and that's something that benefits all working men and women," Rogers said.

While the opportunity came at an unexpected time, O'Connell says he's been thinking about running for the House for a while but didn't want to do so until the seat was no longer occupied by Verow. Now he can bring his unique combination of experience to the legislative process.

"There's a lot you've got to consider when thinking about running, but I advocate for any union brother or sister to get involved in politics, at any level," O'Connell said. "The more our voices are heard, the better."


Manchester, Maine, Local 1837 member Kevin O'Connell won a special election on March 3 to serve in the Maine House of Representatives.

IBEW MP Paves Way for Canada's Ratification of CUSMA

An IBEW member in Parliament led the way to Canada's ratification of the new version of NAFTA in March after striking a deal for more transparency in future trade talks, a win-win outcome for workers.

"It's very much the attitude of the New Democratic Party to fight for the interests of working people, and we used the leverage we had to do that," said Daniel Blaikie, a journeyman wireman from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Local 2085 who was elected to the House of Commons in 2015.

Until Blaikie's intervention, the Liberal Party didn't have the support to move the bill through the Trade Committee in a timely way, which threatened to delay ratification of what Canada calls CUSMA — the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement. The United States and Mexico ratified the pact, which they know as USMCA, in 2019.

U.S. and Canadian unions have criticized the agreement but also recognize that it includes more labor protections than the original NAFTA. Parliament's only decision was to vote the pact up or down; lawmakers couldn't change it.

"We knew we couldn't reopen the deal and fix it," Blaikie said. "So the question was, what can we do so that the interests of workers are first and foremost in the future instead of being an afterthought?"

That kind of advocacy illustrates why it's so crucial to have union members in elected office, said First District Vice President Tom Reid.

"Our members and all workers are better off because Daniel is fighting for them every day in Parliament," Reid said. "We hope more IBEW members will consider running for positions in their communities and provinces because we need many more people like him at every level of government."

The transparency Blaikie negotiated as his party's trade critic will give Parliament the right to review future trade agreements — authority that Canadian lawmakers, unlike the U.S. Congress, have never had.

"Once Parliament knows, then the public knows, which means more time for civil society to get involved, and that includes the labor movement," he said. "Right now, there's no requirement whatsoever for the executive branch to consult the legislative branch, no requirement that they tell Parliament they are negotiating, no requirement to outline their objectives."

The New Democratic Party is one of four opposition parties in Canada's current government, with the Liberal Party holding power but not a majority. Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland accepted Blaikie's terms in February, insisting in her letter to the NDP that CUSMA negotiations were open and transparent.

Blaikie disputed that, telling news media that the secret talks left Parliament and all Canadians in the dark about the pact's provisions and its economic impact.

Both the House of Commons and Canada's appointed Senate voted to ratify CUSMA on March 13, accelerating the process before shutting down Parliament due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Blaikie was named the NDP trade critic, part of the minority party's shadow cabinet, after national elections last October. In that role, he challenges the government on trade matters to secure the best possible outcomes for working people.

First District International Representative Matt Wayland, who speaks regularly with Blaikie about issues affecting IBEW members, said what he accomplished "is very beneficial not only for the IBEW but for the labor movement and the party as well."

On the front end, Wayland expects CUSMA to bring stability and growth to a workforce dependent on trade.

"We're such intertwined trading partners," he said, referring primarily to Canada and the United States. "There are so many businesses integrated on both sides of the border, providing jobs on both sides. [CUSMA] will make it a lot easier to do business, provide stability for jobs and the economy, and in the long run that puts our members to work."

Despite the pact's shortcomings, Blaikie said that labor leaders in Canada and the United States pushed hard for it to protect low-wage workers from the kind of past trade-deal exploitation that "undermines the position of workers in countries with a stronger labor culture."

"CUSMA took a meaningful step by having enforceable labor protections," he said. "How effective enforcement will be remains to be seen."

If it works as intended, Mexican workers will have a clearer path to organizing and bargaining collectively. "If they are treated fairly and paid fairly, that's going to make our workers here more competitive," Blaikie said. "If it's just a race to the bottom, everybody loses except for the guys at the top."

His pro-worker party will use its new influence to minimize that risk going forward, he said, steering trade deals away from the kind of "nefarious aspects" that marred NAFTA.

It could be tested soon, with Canada exploring talks with China and India, among others. "This has the potential to have an impact on some real things coming down the pipe — agreements, in the short term and medium term," Blaikie said. "It's not just an academic victory."


Serving in the House of Commons, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Local 2085 member Daniel Blaikie struck a deal that helped lead to Parliament's ratification of a new North American trade deal.

How Prevailing Wage Boosts Homeownership

The benefits of a prevailing wage extend beyond just pay and benefits, according to a study from the Illinois Economic Policy Institute. Prevailing wage laws also make it easier to get a piece of the American Dream.

"This just goes to show that paying a fair wage is the right thing to do," said International President Lonnie R. Stephenson. "IBEW members are community members too, and when we do well, when we can own a home and give back, that prosperity extends in all kinds of ways."

The ILEPI report finds that state prevailing wage laws, which mandate a fair level of pay on government-funded projects comparable to wages in the area, extend homeownership to more than 61,000 blue-collar construction workers and boost the value of those homes by more than $42 billion. It also found that the laws increase the annual earnings of construction workers by 5%.

"Our study highlights the fact that inequality is not just a function of income — but also of the gaps in homeownership that can inhibit longer-term economic mobility," said ILEPI Policy Director and study co-author Frank Manzo IV. "Prevailing wage is enabling more workers — and especially people of color — to build a brighter future for their families."

The study found that, in states like Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri and Ohio, construction workers have a 2% higher rate of homeownership and a corresponding 13% increase in the average value of their homes. For African Americans in construction, the difference was even more pronounced with an 8% increase in homeownership and an 18% increase in average home values.

These benefits extend to the broader community. The research links the 61,000-plus homes to an estimated $508 million increase in property tax collections tied to those home purchases.

"While there is a clear link between prevailing wages for construction workers and increases in their rates of homeownership, it is equally clear that taxpayers are getting a strong return on their investments," said ILEPI research analyst and study co-author Jill Gigstad. "It's not just the quality roads, bridges, schools and other vital infrastructure that these workers are building in their communities. It's the hundreds of millions of dollars in increased property tax revenues that their home purchases are generating to help fund these critical investments."

Previous research has also found benefits to the prevailing wage — and serious drawbacks when such wages are absent. A study in West Virginia found that an anti-labor-led repeal of the state's prevailing wage law in 2016 led to lower wages, no cost savings and a 26% increase in on-the-job injuries.

A 2017 study from the Economic Policy Institute found that median construction wages were much lower — 21.9% — in the 20 states that have no prevailing wage law than in the states that do.

"If state officials want to hit construction workers in the pocketbook, while folding to business interests, repealing prevailing wage laws is an effective way to do it," the EPI report stated.


A new study shows the benefits of a prevailing wage extend to homeownership.