May 2013

One Union

During the 2011 Convention, I emphasized in order to survive, grow, double our market share; we need to act as ONE UNION. The union tenet that “an injury to one is an injury to all” applies equally to our future. We must move forward as one union, with no sector of the ironworking industry left behind. The failure of one local union threatens us all; the loss of any work jurisdiction undermines our craft; and without realizing our potential within fabrication and manufacturing, we can never help determine our own future.

Modularization and component manufacturing are an inevitable evolution of construction we must secure for union ironworkers. But wait; isn’t this shop work? Exactly, and the reasons and urgency to be a force in shop market are the same that we recognized over 75 years ago when over a hundred shop local unions were chartered to represent thousands of ironworkers. The battle is not just organizing the unorganized as it was back then, though it still is integral part of our strategy, but first to bring back manufacturing capacity to our two nations.

Escalating foreign costs, transportation fuel increases, loss of proprietary intellectual property, coupled with North American stability, potential low-cost natural gas energy prices and technical efficiencies are creating a supportive environment for the revival of homegrown manufacturing, IF we exert our strength as consumers and citizens. Demand those goods, and retailers and manufacturers will follow. 

In 1981, the shop component of our membership was 56,000 members, or 31 percent. Today that number is less than 11,000, or 10 percent. The decrease is not attributed to employees turning their backs to a union or lack of desire to have a union, but the loss of our manufacturing base to foreign, government-subsidized competition. Since 1970, the United States has lost 40 percent of its manufacturing base and shut down many of the plants that were organized. Resurgence in manufacturing must be accompanied by our renewed efforts to organize.

To accomplish this, I have committed additional resources to the Shop Department to increase field organizers. Shop Director John Bielak, working closely with our organizing department and Executive Director Bernie Evers, has engaged outside local unions and shop local unions in joint organizing campaigns throughout the district councils. We have initiated programs to assist existing employers with training, marketing and legislation. The Department of Labor has approved our apprenticeship standards for shop operations, and training programs, including supervisor training, have been developed for use in various shop facilities. IMPACT has provided funding through the regional advisory boards for marketing and legislative lobbying to promote local employers and Buy American provisions. Today, we have more capabilities to improve the efficiency of our current employers and can offer a sound business argument on the safety, quality and productivity advantages of being a union ironworker shop.

Internally, we will continue to erase divisions and increase cooperation between outside local unions and their shop counterparts. As changes in the industry blur the distinction between fabrication and field erection, we must meld the strength of the outside and the shop to ensure the work is done by ONE UNION, the Iron Workers Union.

Thank you brothers and sisters for helping to build our great union.