My Final Column as President and a Final Call to Action

Bob Balgenorth 2012October 2012 - This is the last monthly column I will write as President of the State Building and Construction Trades Council. My 19 years in office will come to an end this month at our quadrennial convention in Santa Monica, when our newly elected President takes office. 

Let’s take a quick look back at the lessons of those years, and how we can apply them to create better lives for California’s workers in the future.

When I became President in 1993, President Bush had recently left office, and his Democratic successor was fighting hard to pull workers out of the deep recession Bush left him.  As I leave, 19 years later, President Bush has recently left office, and his Democratic successor is fighting hard to pull us out of the even deeper recession this Bush had left him.

I guess we’ve come full circle. In the past 19 years, the California Building Trades has recovered from a painful recession, enjoyed prosperous boom times, suffered through an even greater recession with unthinkable job losses, and is now – I fervently hope – beginning to enjoy the fruits of another long and prosperous recovery.

I couldn’t have imagined in 1993 the incredible highs and lows that our industry would endure in the coming decades. Employment numbers – compiled and reported by the state Employment Development Department – vividly convey the wild story.

The first Bush recession saw construction employment drop 35 percent in California, and the doldrums continued into the early years of Bill Clinton’s presidency. But by 1994 the job losses had stopped, and as President Clinton has correctly noted, the longest peacetime economic expansion in history ensued. When he left office in January 2001, construction employment in California had nearly doubled since the early 90s recession, and the job growth continued into the new millennium, reaching a high of nearly 950,000 jobs in 2006.

Then, as we know all too well, the good times abruptly ended, our economy came crashing down, and huge numbers of jobs simply vanished. From October 2006 all the way to January 2011 – for 52 consecutive months – there were year-to-year drops in construction employment in California. Fifty-two straight months! During that time, more than 40 percent of California’s construction jobs were lost.

In early 2011, that miserable streak finally ended, and year-over-year job increases – albeit tiny ones – returned. That trend of small year-over-year increases continued into 2012, and finally, in the summer months of this year, substantial increases in construction employment returned to California.

There is cause for optimism about our future, but only if we continue our tenacious and unified efforts at the ballot box, the Legislature, city halls, the courts, and wherever else the fight takes us.  

Right now, that means taking care of business at the polls in November.  Are we going to help President Obama expand the recovery he has begun by electing him, and other supportive pro-worker candidates, to new terms?

Let’s also make sure Proposition 30, the governor’s job-creating tax measure, is passed. Without it, we face unthinkable cuts to education and public safety, and inadequate resources to invest in badly needed public works projects that create construction jobs.

And we must win our life-or-death battle to defeat the horrific Proposition 32.  By now you know that it is a fraud and a sham, designed to trick voters into thinking it somehow reins in corporate political spending, when in fact its sole purpose is to silence workers’ voices in the political arena and allow the super-wealthy to pursue their interests without any dissent. It is up to union workers to relentlessly deliver that message from now through Election Day.

Let that be my final, urgent appeal as your President. Brothers and sisters, refuse to be silenced! Keep fighting to be heard. Let’s throw the kitchen sink at the vile Proposition 32 and give it the decisive defeat it deserves!

I thank you for the great honor of choosing me to be your President these past 19 years. I believe that working together, we’ve made a great positive difference. Thank you for your unwavering support and unity.

Your new President will need nothing less. 


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