Business and Labor Agree: Now is the Time to Build

February 2011 - Something so unusual that it is almost unheard of happened recently. The AFL-CIO and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, who usually disagree on everything, actually found themselves in complete agreement and said so.

Most of the time, big business and organized labor have agendas that are polar opposites. But these are anything but normal times.

So after President Obama’s State of the Union speech, Chamber President Thomas Donohue and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka issued a statement together, praising the speech, and specifically its emphasis on literally rebuilding our economy, through greater investment in new construction.

“America’s working families and business community stand united in applauding President Obama’s call to create jobs and grow our economy through investment in our nation’s infrastructure,” their statement said. “Whether it is building roads, bridges, high speed broadband, energy systems and schools, these projects not only create jobs and demand for businesses, they are an investment in building the modern infrastructure our country needs to compete in a global economy.”

They concluded: “With the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO standing together to support job creation, we hope that Democrats and Republicans in Congress will also join together to build America’s infrastructure.”

Their comments came after Obama lamented how in recent decades, America has neglected to invest adequately in its infrastructure, allowing European and Asian countries to pass us by, and vowed to change that.

Investment in infrastructure means “thousands of good jobs for the hard-hit construction industry,” he said, “And tonight, I’m proposing that we redouble those efforts.”

Those words give us reason to hope things will soon be better, and working men and women in the building trades, who have struggled so mightily for so long, will see great opportunities to do good work and earn decent, family-supporting paychecks again.

In California, we are waging that same fight, and urging our leaders not to abandon public infrastructure investment, but to recognize that it is our best way out of economic hard times. That’s why we are expressing great concern about Governor Jerry Brown’s proposal to do away with $1.7 billion in funding for redevelopment projects.

We fully appreciate the Governor’s incredibly difficult challenge of inheriting a budget with a $28 billion deficit and trying to balance it. We understand how tough the choices are. We share the concerns about drastic cuts to many good and worthwhile programs.

But abolishing redevelopment in California will only exacerbate the problem. As we know all too well, unemployment in the construction industry already exceeds 30 percent, a major reason why our economy has floundered. Hitting the construction industry and its workers even harder won’t make things any better. It will do the opposite.

We are working closely with the Governor and the Legislature to reach consensus on a better formula to put more Californians to work. We point out that these important decisions come at a time when we are beginning to see some positive signs, precisely because of new investment in our infrastructure.

Construction has just gotten underway on new power plants at Tracy and Russell City; and Building Trades workers are already on the job at the Marsh Landing power plant, at the Northern California Power Agency plant at Lodi, the Ivanpah Solar Project near Needles, the Solar Millennium project near Blythe, the Canyon Power Plant at Anaheim, and the El Centro Project in the Imperial Irrigation District.

Like President Obama, the U.S. Chamber and the AFL-CIO, we want to build on these successes, and create more good jobs; not stop them and hinder California’s recovery.

“We measure progress by the success of our people. By the jobs they can find and the quality of life those jobs offer,” President Obama said.

No one understands that more viscerally than California Building Trades workers.

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