October 2012

Politics and Organizing

Keeping Pensions Secure

There are several misconceptions when it comes to pension plans. The two most common are:

"Once vested, you are guaranteed a pension" and "Once you're retired, you are guaranteed the pension at the established pension rate." Both are false. Whether retired or someday hoping to retire, a pension plan is only as good as the amount of money in the pension fund plus the sum of the current contributions. A pension plan is likely in trouble if there are more dollars being paid out in pensions than the amount of current contributions. We have seen the current contribution rate climb to as much as $20.00 per hour to maintain the present payout to retirees. This increase impedes the union employers' ability to bid work successfully.

When the non-union companies are paying $11.00-$18.00 per hour total package and a union contractor is paying $20.00 per hour just to the pension plan, it places our contractors in a vulnerable position as they still have to pay into the health care fund, as well as pay the wages. What affects the contractors, ultimately affects our members and retirees. Some union pension plans and at least one Iron Worker pension plan have been terminated because of this kind of situation. Members that once received $3,000.00 per month have seen their monthly pension dropped to $300.00 per month.

Correcting this problem is not an easy fix, but there are basic actions we can take. Organizing new members and putting our current members to work are the first steps. Organizing the non-union workers and the companies they work for is a necessity. If we wish to maintain our standards, bringing the unorganized within our ranks and raising their standards will level the playing field in our industries. This will increase pension contributions and result in increased work opportunities for current members. But current attacks on unions are making it more difficult to secure work, which in turn, makes it more difficult to maintain pension plans.

The Win/Win of Project Labor Agreements

Project labor agreements (PLAs) have been extremely effective in securing work for our members. In most cases, union members work on these jobsites not even knowing a PLA was signed. These agreements, which put union members to work and pay into pension plans that maintain contributions to retirees, are under attack. The Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC), the biggest non-union contractors' association, has filed lawsuits in opposition to PLAs. In some cases, they were successful in their efforts to eliminate the PLA where the work performed would have been constructed under a union contract. The ABC, whose members are mostly non-union companies, has cited reasons for their views on project labor agreements, "PLAs almost always require workers to be hired from union halls. PLAs require contractors to pay into union pension and benefit programs."

The use of project labor agreements is also a targeted issue being debated in the presidential election. When Mitt Romney received the endorsement of the Associated Building Contractors (ABC), he had some choice words with regard to PLAs. Mr. Romney said earlier this year when receiving the ABC's endorsement, "One of the first things I will do-actually on Day One-is I will end the government's favoritism towards unions in contracting on federal projects and end project labor agreements." Mr. Romney's views on organized labor in construction are clear, unlike many of his other views. On the other hand, President Obama, upon taking office issued Executive Order 13502, which encouraged executive agencies to consider requiring the use of project labor agreements where they engage in large-scale construction projects. In an official statement from the White House website, an administration official wrote in 2010 that, "As of the summer of 2009, 21 of 25 Department of Energy construction projects were, or were slated to be, covered by PLAs."

Further, in February of 2010, President Obama appeared at a United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters training center in Lanham, Maryland to describe his plans for increasing government investment in nuclear power. When making this announcement, he was surrounded by the then President of the AFL-CIO Building Trades Department and the general presidents of the IBEW and UA in a show of commitment to organized labor in construction. I believe that actions speak louder than words. Mitt Romney lauded his anti-union policies as Governor of Massachusetts when he addressed the ABC. President Obama has taken every measure available to him as president to encourage the use of PLAs.

It's a Union Issue

Our members, active and retired, have a personal interest in this election. It's not a Democratic issue, it's not a Republican issue, it is a union issue. Although we have allies in both political parties, as well as Independents, who have supported our efforts, the assault on union members continues to escalate. Attacks by organizations like the ABC and their political henchmen, combined with the lack of union work, have begun to have an effect on union pension funds. The math is easy; you need more contributors to the pension fund than those drawing a pension. Organizing and electing those into political office that support you should be a priority to protect yours and future union members' pension plans.

The Candidates' Stance on PLAs

Romney

Addressing the 2012 National Meeting of the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC), held recently in Arizona (http://www.c-spanarchives.org/program/Builder&showFullAbstract=1):

"If I become president of the United States I will curb the practice we have in this country of giving union bosses an unfair advantage in contracting. One of the first things I will do-actually on Day One-is I will end the government's favoritism towards unions in contracting on federal projects and end project labor agreements."

"Even before his stimulus went into effect one of the first things he does is issue an Executive Order forcing government agencies to use union labor on construction projects.

"We also had Davis-Bacon like restrictions in [Massachusetts] contracting laws and I repealed them."

Obama

Official statement http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2010/04/12/project-labor-agreements-a-better-deal-all):

Issued Executive Order 13502: "encouraging executive agencies to consider requiring the use of project labor agreements (PLAs) when they engage in large-scale construction projects."

"As of the summer of 2009, 21 of 25 Department of Energy construction projects were, or were slated to be, covered by PLAs."

Announces new nuclear power plants to be done with PLA: (http://www.examiner.com/article/president-obama-announces-national-restart-of-nuclear-energy-development)