President's Corner

March 2017 In Busy Contract Year, Local 150 is Stronger Than Ever

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President’s Corner

In a Busy Contract Year, Local 150 is Stronger Than Ever

Brothers and Sisters,

SWEENEYIn this State of the Union edition, I am pleased to report that the State of our Union is strong. We are coming out of another year of solid employment numbers and stable man hours for the vast majority of our members. Our benefit funds are healthy and members have access to the most modern and customizable insurance options available anywhere today. As I write this, our Training Site is full of apprentices and journeymen who are taking advantage of the most advanced training program in the world for Operating Engineers. Our union is on stable financial footing. We have positioned ourselves to handle the challenges that face us on the job sites and in within the halls of government.

As I reflect upon the State of the Union, I cannot help but be amazed at how far we have come from the struggles we faced less than a decade ago. At that time, we were laying off staff, feeding members with boxes of food, using the union’s reserves to keep members insured, and hustling to find work in the worst economy of our lifetimes. Our pension fund suffered along with the rest of the economy, and the cost of healthcare was increasing by more than 10 percent every year. In 2010 and 2011, we were forced to go on strike to protect our livelihood and benefits as employers throughout our jurisdiction sought to test our resolve.

Our strength as an organization is vitally important today, as we are headed into a year with more than 20 industry-wide master agreements set to expire. After the ratification of heavy/highway agreements in Districts 6 and 7, we are still looking ahead to negotiations over our major heavy/highway and building contracts in every District except District 4. More than 60 shop agreements are up. We also have nearly 20 public sector municipal contracts expiring this year.

In the years between negotiations, we work hard to keep our benefit costs as manageable as possible. Taking responsible action on our pension fund and creating a cost-effective marketplace for healthcare reduces unnecessary expenses that would drive up the costs we need to cover in contract negotiations. By working hard to keep these costs as low as possible, we can seek reasonable contracts that allow members to maintain strong benefits and keep up with the cost of living.

The tone of discussions leading up to negotiations on several of these contracts gives me the feeling that there are likely to be job actions this year. Whether contractors are expecting unreasonable economic concessions or pushing for language changes that would harm our members on the job, there are many issues to be resolved this Spring and Summer.

It is in this context that our organizational strength is so vital. The last time we went on an industry-wide strike in Districts 1, 2 and 3, the union had exhausted nearly all of its financial reserves and members were struggling to put together a few weeks of work. That is not the case today. Our reserves and Strike Fund have been rebuilt in preparation for a day that someone challenged our resolve to protect the decent middle class lifestyle that our members lead. If another union gave up language or economics in a contract, that doesn’t mean that we will. We will go into all of our negotiations with reasonable proposals that address the concerns you have shared with us.

We recently received some very good news on one of our legal challenges against “right to work” laws. As you likely remember, we were one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the Village of Lincolnshire over their passage of a “right to work” ordinance covering their municipality. We have always stood by our assertion that only states can pass these laws, so we warned the Village of an immediate challenge, and when they passed the ordinance anyway, we joined forces with IUOE Local 399, the Chicago Regional Council of Carpenters and the Chicago Laborers District Council in a legal challenge.

In January, a federal judge in Chicago ruled in our favor, affirming that only states or territories can pass these laws, and that Lincolnshire had no authority to pass one. The rejection of Lincolnshire’s “right to work” law was a huge win for Local 150 and labor as a whole. Our Legal Department and our partners in the lawsuit did a tremendous job on this, and there are a handful of rank-and-file members who played a big role in making this happen as well.

Mark Beinlich of Dick’s Heavy Equipment Repair, Curt Reynolds of DCS Trucking, and Revcon Construction’s Jeff Rivera, Sean Storer and Roberto Zavala provided information that was critical to our case. Because they work at companies located in Lincolnshire, their willingness to participate in the lawsuit gave us the standing we needed to take the challenge to court and ultimately be successful. The language in this decision was very strong and may prove useful across the country, so these members deserve an “atta boy” for their help.

There were many people closely watching this case, both locally and nationally. Other anti-union mayors in Illinois who were waiting to see if they could pass a similar law got a clear answer. Nationally, this decision contradicted a federal court in Kentucky which ruled in December that Kentucky’s county-based laws were legal. While that is currently being appealed, the two different rulings could create a split between federal circuit courts, making the issue ripe to be taken to the Supreme Court.

We are confident that the law is on our side in this matter, and we will do everything in our power to shut down the notion of local “right to work” laws once and for all, but the Supreme Court is no sure thing these days. No matter what, you can count on Local 150 to take up the fight against any policy that is intended to lower wages and benefits, weaken rights on the job, or otherwise diminish the standard of living for middle class workers.

The Open Enrollment process for our Health Marketplace has gone smoothly so far. The Fund sent several rounds of information out to active hourly members, and after hosting informational and enrollment fairs across our jurisdiction this Winter, our staff is finding that members are comfortable with the process.

This year, the credit costs for all the plans in the Marketplace remained the same as last year, which is something that can truly be celebrated. In addition, members will be able to use CVS MinuteClinics across our jurisdiction and receive almost any service they offer free of charge. I’ve heard from a lot of members who love the success that our Operators’ Health Center has seen so far, but who live too far away to utilize it. This step with the MinuteClinics will offer members across our jurisdiction access to many free services while we determine the best approach to expand the Operators’ Health Center.

Our Pension Fund continues to recover from the massive losses of the Great Recession, and with man-hours exceeding projections and new members coming into the union, we will be watching the markets closely in the coming weeks. Our investments are well diversified to avoid unnecessary risk, but the stock market plays an important role in our returns for the year. As those of you who come to General Membership Meetings have heard me say over the years, the most important day for our Pension Fund is March 31st. It is the last day of our fiscal year, and the market closing on that day is used to calculate our funding level and determine our actuarial assumptions moving forward.

We do not have much say in what the markets do, but we spare no effort in advocating opportunities for members to get to work. Our efforts to secure a long-term infrastructure funding plan in Indiana continue. We are hopeful that the lawmakers who have stood up for a responsible solution that relies on user fees will be able to move the plan forward with bipartisan support. Our staff and officers have been involved in many discussions with lawmakers through the process so far, and we will continue to push for a solution that creates jobs, enhances safety and supports economic growth.

It is unlikely that we will see any large capital plan in Illinois until the budget situation is resolved, and Bruce Rauner is still holding the budget hostage until he can squeeze concessions out of workers. Our own polls indicate that even Governor Rauner’s supporters aren’t with him on his attempts to bust unions, so he would be wise to drop the demands and get to work on the real problems facing Illinois.

There is hope that new leadership at the Canadian Pacific Railway will bring an end to the stalemate on the Elgin-O’Hare Western Access project. The CEO who halted negotiations with the Tollway and refused to allow bridge piers to be located in the CP railyard stepped down in January, and efforts to get things back on track are underway. This project has kept members working on cranes, drills and dirt equipment for two years, and we cannot afford any unnecessary slowdowns.

With a fairly mild winter, we should see things getting underway early in 2017. We’ve got a busy year ahead in contract negotiations, and hopefully even busier in the field.

United We Stand, Divided We Fall.