2018 Legislative Conference Keynote Speech – President Sean McGarvey

Thank you.


Brothers and Sisters…

Ladies and gentlemen…

Distinguished guests…


Welcome to the 2018 Legislative Conference for North America’s Building Trades Unions.


Once again, we gather in our Nation’s Capital to advance the cause of our members and hear from lawmakers at all levels of government as we chart our course for the remainder of this year and beyond.


This year we are renewing our call for investment in, and new partnerships for, robust infrastructure investments – both public and private.


The conference theme — Our Money at Work — Rebuilding America’s Public and Private Infrastructure with Building Trades Capital —  underscores our solution-oriented approach and highlights our leadership role in the infrastructure discussion and debate.


But ladies and gentlemen, we have had plenty of discussions and there is no longer any debate – our nation’s infrastructure is in critical need of renewal and now is the time for ACTION.


Because of a failure of leadership from the Federal Government, cash-strapped states and cities have tried to step up.


They have found traditional ways such as gas tax increases or bond measures to fund new school, highway or airport construction.


They have also sought private capital, including some of ours, to help fill the void in the availability of safe drinking water or a reliable supply of energy.


They have issued voter-approved bonds or made adjustments to the tax code and dedicated that revenue to infrastructure improvements.


In short, they have made it a priority even when it wasn’t easy.


This week, we will be heading to Capitol Hill to once again call on lawmakers to truly prioritize this bipartisan issue and find the will to actually get it done.


Putting this off for whatever the latest reason politicians can dream up, will only make matters worse.


It will make it even more difficult.


Yet some will say now is not the time.


With our nation’s infrastructure receiving a D+ rating from the American Society of Civil Engineers, I wonder how much more time we actually have to wait.


In traffic…


Or in airport delays…


Or for safe drinking water…


Or for safe bridges…


For a smart and secure 21st-century energy grid…


For schools to get heat in the winter…


For commercial or industrial energy efficiency…


For rural broadband…


For extreme weather resiliency…


Or for world-class ports?


How much longer must we wait?


Regardless of your perspective or political affiliation, I don’t think anyone wants to make America third-RATE again.


It’s time for America to LEAD again…


…By example.


Doing so will not only rebuild depressed and forgotten communities… it will lay a foundation for growth, shared prosperity and opportunity — for our members… our contractor partners… and the next generation of skilled craft professionals that we recruit into our ranks and train for a career in the Building Trades.


Since we gathered last year, we have been hard at work in advocating for a comprehensive infrastructure proposal that will be broad, robust, include standards, promote efficiency and be sustainable in the long term.


To help amplify this message we launched a project called ReBuild USA that will help our members and the general public engage with lawmakers to ensure this is a top national priority… particularly as yet another election season looms and voters head to the ballot box.


In response to our collective advocacy, we have seen a proposal from the Administration, and various plans offered by Congress.


We support most aspects of these proposals and while we acknowledge there are differing views on how to get there… we appreciate the Administration setting an ambitious target of over a trillion dollars in new investment.   And as the saying goes… where there’s a will, there is a way.


Congress has been at odds for most of the past year but there was a will to pass a massive corporate tax cut that was not offset by other cuts or fully ‘paid for’.


Even though we got near the finish line on our multi-year pension reform efforts, there was a will to pass the buck on pension reform until after the election and hand it off to a commission that seems unlikely to produce anything meaningful for our membership.


There was also a will to fund continued operations overseas.


There was a will to rename federal buildings… and even a will to pass legislation to encourage flag waving.


If these are considered priority items or investments for the future — when is Congress going to make infrastructure a priority and invest in the US??


When are we going to demand accountability from our elected officials to act on widely supported, common sense investments that will strengthen our nation and provide a solid foundation for the future?


Well, I submit the time has come, brothers and sisters…


No more distractions… No more ideological battles… No more excuses…


We must demand ACTION.


We will lead the way as we always do… because we know that a job of this magnitude will take planning, dedication, skill, efficiency, partnership, vision, and determination.


We do this all the time, brothers and sisters.


And the members we represent exemplify this every day on the job.


And as our conference theme suggests, we are not simply looking for others to do what we won’t do ourselves.


We know we have a responsibility here as well.


Whether we are helping to finance infrastructure and energy projects with our pension assets…


Whether it’s training current and future members to meet the demands of industry…


Or whether it’s working with project sponsors, other non-profits, community partners and educational institutions to provide pathways for underserved communities… North America’s Building Trades Unions are not just waiting for Congress to get its act together.


And with over 130 Apprenticeship Readiness Programs now in existence throughout the country… we are making a difference for those often left behind.


Consider Dionte Henley…


A young man who was tired of working multiple dead-end jobs with little or no benefits.


He completed our multi-craft core curriculum in the LRT Build Program through our partner North Hennepin Community College in Minnesota and was ultimately placed with M.G. McGrath as a sheet metal pre-apprentice… and a short time later formally into Sheet Metal Local 10’s apprenticeship program.


Dionte says he is now on a career path once unimaginable and this opportunity has changed the entire economic trajectory of him and his family.


Or Dawn Benitez…  a former staff sergeant with the U.S. Army.


Dawn served with distinction, earning an Iraq Campaign Medal with a Campaign Star.


Unfortunately, after her service to our Nation, like too many of Veterans, she struggled to find meaningful employment.


Through our Apprenticeship Readiness Program in partnership with Southern Company for the construction of two nuclear reactors in Georgia, her life has changed.


She is now an apprentice with Ironworkers local 709 in Augusta, Georgia… and one of over 27,000 placements we have made through our successful Helmets to Hardhats program nationwide.


These are just a couple of examples.


This is who we are…


They are who we fight for…


And this is something that any politician should support.


So when you’re asked why — Why do we want investments in infrastructure?


Why do we want common sense energy policy?


Why do we fight for prevailing wage standards that promote efficiency and safety?


Why do we promote project labor agreements and community workforce agreements that provide pathways for military veterans, women and minorities?


Why do we invest in craft training?


Why do we work with Wall Street to raise procurement standards?


Why do we support business and labor partnerships?


Why do we fight for retirement security?


Why do we work both sides of the aisle to create Building Trades Majorities?


Dionte’s and Dawn’s success stories… and thousands of others like them… are why, brothers and sisters.


Our proud history and our common values will continue to endure — even as we remain cutting edge.


You’ve heard me say from this podium before that we must continue to adapt.


The only thing that is constant is change.


We should not and cannot be afraid of that.


We must instead endeavor to shape that change.


This does not mean we abandon our core mission or our historical charge — to organize and better the lives of working people.


It does mean however that we must always be strategic, forward thinking and innovative.


We must be inclusive yet focused.


We must be passionate yet realistic.


And just as we do on the jobsite, we must work together while demonstrating our unique skill sets.


There is no one size fits all approach or single replacement for traditional bottom up organizing in the construction industry.


Organizing will always be Job #1 for Building Trades Local Unions.


And I can tell you that with our strategic and value centric approach… we are making an impact all throughout this country.


Helping to propel growth and prosperity in the good times and providing a floor when the downturn comes.


We do this through our commitment to craft training… through our industry partnerships… and through our bipartisan approach to politics.


This has resulted in steady growth in market share and membership gains in the Building Trades since the economic collapse of 2008.


In fact, we have collectively gained more than 300,000 new members.


We engage lawmakers to ensure our tax dollars are not used to undermine standards or promote a race to the bottom.


We engage private industry and the financial sector to implement fair contracting policies that provide a level playing field for our contractor partners.


And we engage community partners to add their voices to our cause.


And as a point of emphasis this week, we are making sure all of our resources are utilized to support our mission, not to undermine it.


For too long, brothers and sisters, we have let others decide our fate or our trajectory.  No more.


We are getting smarter and taking control of our own destiny.


Our members work too hard and bank too many hours to have our money be used to undermine our mission.


In recent years we have begun to build upon the good work by some of our unions to map our assets and insist that our pension funds are invested in a fiduciarily sound manner that also provides work opportunities for our current and future members.


And as you saw from our opening video… this not only strengthens our pension plans for current and future retirees, it ensures steady work opportunities for our current and future active members.


We are all connected in this and we must be united like never before.


It is not enough to chart our future through proxy.


We must insist on accountability in concert with our contractor and trustee partners… to ensure our dollars are being utilized wisely as we deem appropriate.


This year we again issued our Capital Strategies Investment Consultant Report Card… to record a baseline of information that trustees and all members should find useful.


We have sought information on a few core issues and collected that data which we in turn have shared with your representatives on the Capital Strategies Committee.


We asked questions such as investment returns, job creation track record and conflicts of interest.


While I won’t spend this morning going through all of the results… I will tell you — while we had some very positive findings… we also found some disturbing information that requires further conversation.


I ask that you all follow through here.


We will no longer be taken for granted – and those that are hired to assist us will know they work for US, not the other way around.


And remember – we are no different than any other business enterprise in seeking to maximize our return on investment.


I encourage all of you to gain a deeper understanding of this topic at our workshop held here this week.


Another plank to our capital strategies work is to implement Responsible Contractor Policies with several leaders in the private equity and infrastructure investment world.


This of course helps advance standards for workers and also leads to a level playing field for high road contractors… not those seeking to exploit lax enforcement to undermine workers… whether they be union or not.


These policies will provide advance notice of project bid requests… and will ensure we are competing on who can perform the best… not necessarily who can cost the least.


This continues the strong bond we have with our contractor partners but it also underscores the need for true partnership.


Far too often our contractors… when facing backlogs… will erroneously presume that certain jobs will go union no matter what.


This, we know is rarely the case.


We want to make sure our investments are utilized in a responsible manner.


And we all have a stake to ensure that we are remaining competitive…  while not abandoning our central mission to secure the best possible wage and benefit packages for those we are privileged to represent.


Furthermore, while we always remember who has traditionally stuck with us, we must be willing to expand our circle of allies and constantly seek to attract new contractor partners.


We can never have too many signatory contractors!


This is not at the expense of old friends, this is to widen our opportunity base and deliver value for project owners — whether they be us as investors, or other customers we serve.


If we continue to expand our relationships and partnerships across the political divide…


and with businesses, whole industries… and community leaders….


If we recognize the value and power of our retirement funds as resources to spur economic growth for ourselves and those who fill our shoes…


We can drive job creation and CREATE OPPORTUNITY








Via public funds, our own resources, and our strategic alliances… we have earned great respect in the marketplace.


We don’t sit on the sidelines.


In fact, we are the first ones on the field – and, when at all possible… we extend a hand to those in need… as evidenced by yesterday’s Day of Service.


The Building Trades has long recognized that to do anything right…


To do anything that makes a meaningful impact in the lives of working people…


Acting TOGETHER is the only effective approach.


The battles aren’t going away – and, if long-term victories… economic opportunities… and retirement security is what we seek… we need to be both dogged and thoughtful in our tactics.


And it makes the work of promoting our industry partnerships… the capital strategies program… and bipartisan political engagement all the more important… particularly when misguided politicians in some states look to undermine long fought health, safety and wage standards for the construction industry.


Together, we must continue to elevate the profile of our high-road model.


Together, we can effectively bring an end to the “race to the bottom” that has devastated countless American workers and their families… left them with little hope… or led them to fall victim to the growing opioid epidemic gripping the nation.


Together, we can protect prevailing wage standards… promote fair contracting… and expand the use of project labor agreements.


The last few years we’ve been on the defensive in far too many state legislative battles… NO MORE.


To our brothers and sisters in Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Missouri, Kentucky and West Virginia…


This is from the heart… on behalf of every Building Trades member in North America…


You’ve stood at the vanguard… and you’ve dug in… and held the line.


You’ve been battered and bloodied… but YOU’RE NOT DEFEATED…



Now is the time we go on offense… and begin to turn the tide in our direction.


And for our brothers and sisters in New York…


On behalf of our Governing Board of Presidents… and three million Building Trades members across North America…






When we speak of the backbone of America, we speak of Building Trades members – past and present.


The people in this room – and those who came before you – built this nation.


I stand before you today to say:


We are READY to leverage our partnerships to empower our members…


To empower North America’s Building Trades Unions.


Over the decades, we have met countless adversaries:


But here we are…










We will always face challenges.


But those have never stopped us – and they won’t today.


We are builders.


We are dreamers.


We are a representation of our great nation.


And I tell you: We don’t shy away from obstacles – WE CONQUER THEM.


We represent the most talented workforce in the world.


My bet is ALWAYS on us.


With each passing day, we are gaining renewed respect in the marketplace… in corporate board rooms… and in the halls of Congress.


The strategic alliances we’ve made will lead to growth for all of our unions and thus, the middle class…


And we aren’t stopping now.  We move forward.


To paraphrase the first President of the American Federation of Labor, Samuel Gompers…


The Building Trades want more — more public investment in infrastructure… more wage protections and safety standards… more pathways of opportunity for those left behind.


And if there’s one thing I know… I know that when we work as “ONE…” we are a force to be reckoned with and we can realize the vision expressed by brother Gompers.


Be PROUD of the work we have done.

Be PROUD about the work we are doing.

Be PROUD of the high standards we fight to promote.

Be PROUD of the opportunities we create…

And be PROUD to represent the Building Trades.

This is our time, Brothers and Sisters.

Now let’s get to work.