An Amazing 2013 - Let's Stay Tough & Unified for 2014's Challenges

Robbie Column

January 2014 - In the Building Trades monthly columns here throughout 2013, we spoke often of the great power that unity brings to the Building Trades, how well that unity has served us here in California, and the great and real danger of losing all we've fought so hard for should we ever allow that unity to falter because of disagreements among ourselves.

California has become the shining star of the nation for improving the quality of life for blue-collar working families; even, unfortunately, as many other states have moved backward. That is because the affiliated trades have worked tirelessly in every city and county across the state, to assure the election of state officials and legislators who understand the concerns of working people.

Now, as we embark on a mission to win more political and legislative battles in this new year of 2014,  we'll be beating that same drum as loudly as possible. We have won many great political and legislative battles the past few years because that increasing unification has given the Trades strength.

Among last year's amazing string of legislative victories was protecting prevailing wage for workers in charter cities. Since 1937, charter cities have been the last refuge for low wages for public projects; the darlings of the underground economy and the anti-union, anti-worker fringe. Now we have removed the motivation for importing unskilled, low-wage workers, often from out of state, in those cities.

In 2013 we also greatly improved the safety of oil refineries, making them safer for the people who work in them and the surrounding communities. Our bill requires that contractors on those facilities shall have a work force of at least 40 percent, phasing up to 60 percent, graduates of a state-approved apprenticeship program; and that those well-trained workers earn the prevailing wage for construction workers that live in the communities where these industrial facilities are located.

Another victory was ending the shameful practice of reducing workers' wages by allowing deductions from their checks paid to sham compliance committees to be applied against the interests of these same workers, in an effort to lower their wages by removing prevailing wages.

These are all tremendous accomplishments that you brought about by fighting together with an unwavering unity and resolve.

Now we enter another legislative session, and another vitally important election year. And we simply can't afford to ease up or show any loss of unity and purpose.

A big challenge for 2014 will be reducing the nearly impossible to achieve two-thirds vote threshold for voters to approve local tax measures to fund badly-needed, job-creating transportation and infrastructure projects. The unjust current system allows a small minority of nay-sayers to thwart the will of the overwhelming majority of voters.

We saw it in Alameda County in 2012 where 66.5 percent of the voters supported Measure B1 for a half-cent sales tax for transportation infrastructure projects. But that was barely short of the two-thirds, or 66.7 percent needed for passage, and the measure failed.

We saw it again when Measure J in Los Angeles, to extend a half-cent sales tax increase for transportation projects, received 66.1 percent of the vote.  But it required 66.7 percent, and so failed. Essentially, 15,000 votes cancelled the more than 1.8 million people who voted in favor of better transportation infrastructure.

We should be enjoying the benefits of the better transportation systems these measures would have funded, and the environmental and economic benefits of the thousands of jobs they would have produced. 

So we will work in 2014 to change this unfair system by changing the law to allow local tax measures to pass with 55 percent, still a decisive majority threshold, just not an impossible one.

This is an important part of our greater mission: putting Californians to work, on important public works projects that benefit us all and drive the economy, while creating new opportunities for tens of thousands of California high school kids to embark on good careers in construction.

As we have repeatedly stressed and will continue to stress as we move forward: the common denominator that fuels all of this is the tireless and unified efforts of all local unions, affiliates, building trades councils, and building trades members throughout this state. We can't elect good candidates and win good results in any other way.

Thank you for your great efforts. They paid off wonderfully in 2013. Now, are you on board for 2014?


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