President's Corner

January 2018 Building Opportunities for the Next Generation

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President’s Corner

Brothers and Sisters, we are in the middle of an exceptionally busy time for the apprenticeship program. Aside from it being the start of another training season, the staff and administration of the Training Center spent the month of November traveling to district halls nearly every day to host application pickup events.

This year, for the first time, our apprenticeship moved to opening a distribution period for apprenticeship applications, instead of the previous system of year-round availability. The reason for the switch was mainly a United States Department of Labor (USDOL) regulation change that made applications valid for only 10 months instead of two years, as they previously were. In all, after 17 events at district halls and daily application availability at the Training Center, we expect to have more than 5,000 applications to review once they are all returned.

The next step in the process is the scoring of applications by a committee which will look at criteria including educational background, work history and technical skills. After applications have been scored, high-scoring applicants will be required to take an aptitude test to ensure that they have the intellectual abilities to work safely and effectively in the construction industry. Finally, applicants will be selected to participate in a skill evaluation, which will take place over 20 hours in the evening at the Training Center.

Over the course of this process, we will prepare our class of apprentices for the upcoming year. It should go without saying that this process is overseen not only by the administration of the Training Center and Local 150, but also by the USDOL, and all parties work to ensure that every applicant has the same, fair opportunity when the applicant submits his or her information. Our program is open to men and women of every race, color and creed, and those characteristics are not in any way taken into account to put anyone at an unfair advantage or disadvantage compared to the rest of the applicants.

The USDOL requires that apprenticeship programs advertise when they are open for applications, and this year, we advertised on television, social media and the internet. Our outreach emphasized the opportunities for veterans, women and minorities. Part of what we are trying to remind the public through our positive branding campaign, is that unions provide opportunities to everyone, and carrying that message over to apprenticeship applications was particularly effective. We got instant feedback over the phones and from applicants who came in and referred to the commercials as the way they learned about our apprenticeship program.

As always, the size of the apprentice classes that we bring in depends on the amount of work that we expect will be available for apprentices in the coming year. We certainly wouldn’t bring in apprentices that we couldn’t be reasonably certain would stay working throughout the season. To that end, we have stayed busy advocating for essential job-creating infrastructure initiatives.

Last year, Indiana passed the largest infrastructure funding program in its history, and we have already seen increases in lettings. This, of course, was directly related to the public pressure that came in the wake of our campaign about the neglect of state roads and bridges. We expect that there will be increases in state-funded work throughout our jurisdiction.

In Illinois, however, the public infrastructure outlook is far less rosy. Governor Rauner spent more than two years refusing the mere discussion of a capital bill while he held the budget hostage. After passing a budget, he and the Republican Party he purchased have still refused to work on a capital bill. It is the height of irresponsibility to allow roads and bridges to degrade and halt meaningful job creation just to slow political gears, but Governor Rauner and his lackeys have proven themselves immune to common sense and principled leadership so often that it is almost expected.

While we can’t rely on state-funded infrastructure work, we are working closely with other agencies that promote large capital investments, from the Illinois Tollway to various utility companies. Over the past half decade, the contractors that have provided the most work for Local 150 Operating Engineers have been utility companies. We have been with them to advocate and educate people about the rusting water mains and the leaking gas lines that have been let go too long, and the result has been the overhaul of entire utility systems in Chicago and Northeastern Illinois.

One of the other saving graces that we’ve had under Rauner’s failed leadership has been the Illinois Tollway. The reconstruction of I-90 from Rosemont to Rockford eased traffic and introduced millions of people to what a highway of the future should look like. Continued work on the Elgin- O’Hare Western Access project has kept members working for several years and should only increase once the Surface Transportation Board settles an ongoing land battle between the Tollway and the Canadian Pacific Railroad. We’ve been involved in that matter locally and federally, in the interest of keeping the project moving forward.

Additionally, the recent word from the Illinois Tollway has been that the reconstruction of I-294 that we supported earlier this year might be able to move forward sooner than expected. Because it may be able to be built within its current footprint, the project might be able to get underway in 2018 instead of 2019, which would be a great boost for employment in the short term, while also expediting the completion of another world-class piece of infrastructure.

Work hours have exceeded our estimates over the past few years, even without a comprehensive transportation funding plan, and the day will come when a capital plan gets out of political prison. That day will likely be when Governor Rauner is no longer in office, so we are working hard to ensure that he is a “one and done” governor. Years of neglect will make the work that much more urgent when a capital bill comes up, and we will have to be ready with a workforce that is up to the task. We are doing everything we can to be ready with a next-generation workforce that is up to the challenge when the floodgates open.

United We Stand, Divided We Fall.