Do Your Best Today by Jeff Sullivan

 In News, Newsletter: Summer 2020

The world has certainly changed since the last District Council 35 newsletter. Just before we were ready to go to print with the spring edition, COVID-19 hit, and since then all of us have been forced to face a “new normal.” Our daily lives have been upended, our family life has been disrupted, and our very existence seemingly lies in the balance. I want to first take a moment to acknowledge all the DC 35 families who have been affected by this virus. It continues to present daily challenges for all of us, in our work lives as well as in our personal lives. It has also brought challenges to the DC 35 offices, as we do all we can to serve our sister and brother members.

Over our history, we have confronted and overcome various obstacles to our work. While most have been work-related issues concerning market share, anti-union politicians, and corporate elites, we have always come out stronger on the other side of each of the battles we have faced. The COVID-19 outbreak brings a whole new set of challenges and requires us to maintain a laser focus on the health and well-being of you and your families.

Some have said that the best preparation for tomorrow is to do your best today, and this mantra has never been truer or more tested during the past several months. Cities and towns shut down construction sites across our jurisdiction, I ordered a temporary halt to work for our members, and we were all faced with the stark economic realities that come with no work hours. As I have consistently communicated with the DC 35 staff and each of you, all of the recent decisions that were made were done with one objective in mind: the health and safety of you and your families.

In response to the pandemic, we immediately put in place a process for clearing job sites as safe for our membership. The Business Reps and other staff members were in constant communication with our signatory contractors, project owners, local and state officials, and many of you, to make sure that we were doing our best every day to ensure your safety. Our system required contractors to seek our permission to resume work. Our Reps then visited the site, spoke with our members, and the site-specific COVID-19 policy was reviewed to make sure that the site maintained the highest safety standards. The system was successful and was received enthusiastically by the membership as well as our contractors. In fact, the protocol put in place by most of the major cities and towns in our jurisdiction was strikingly similar to the program we put in place during the early days of the shutdown.

As today’s health experts tell us, this pandemic is far from over. Each of us has a significant role to play in ensuring our health and the health of all we come across. While the changes to our daily lives have been disruptive, the basics of good sense and care for our fellow women or man make it clear that we must all do the following:
• WEAR A MASK • MAINTAIN SOCIAL DISTANCE • AVOID LARGE GATHERINGS • STAY HOME WHEN YOU CAN

Like other challenges, we will get through this. It’s about preparation and doing our best every day. We must maintain the course we have set, and we will be stronger because of the challenges we face.

Against the backdrop of the pandemic, our nation was again confronted with the uprising brought about with the senseless killing of George Floyd. District Council 35 came out immediately and denounced this preventable tragedy, and we are all now witnessing a social reawakening as to the systemic racism our Black and brown sisters and brothers face on a daily basis. I am proud of the fact that our union has the largest minority membership in New England. Our membership is the face of our region; we are diverse, we are different races, and we come from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds. But we have one thing in common — we want a better life for ourselves and our families. We want to provide a better future for our children, and we all want to take care of our loved ones, whoever and wherever they may be. As union members, we know that the way to do this is by doing our best every day to create job opportunities for our membership. It is this mantra that drives the work of the District Council officers and is at the heart of everything we do. You will read in these pages about the great work being done by our members in service to the newly created Social Impact Center in Boston’s inner-city neighborhoods. The IUPAT has always been at the front lines in the fight for racial and social justice. Every great movement in the history of this country has been led by working women and men. That will never change, and District Council 35 will continue to advocate for the needed change that will improve the lives of all working women and men. I am proud of our work in this space and appreciate your partnership in this important work.

There have been some recent changes with the office staff. I saw the need to devote more time and resources to creating new and unique strategies to capture additional work opportunities. Justin Desmond has accepted the position as our Business Development Specialist and is working on several projects and campaigns to increase work hours for our membership.

Jorge Rivera has assumed the position as our new Director of Organizing. In his time with the District Council, Jorge has fully engaged with all facets of our work and has become a valuable addition to the staff. Both Justin and Jorge will build upon their fine work to support the membership.

I have spoken with many of you about the economic downturn brought about by COVID-19 and its impact on our benefits funds. I am happy to report that both our Pension and Annuity Plans have withstood the disruptions to the fluctuation in the investment markets and have maintained strong positions regarding investment returns. Perhaps the most direct impact brought about by the decline in work hours over the past several months is the potential impact it could have on our members’ eligibility for health insurance. While the jointly trusted board that monitors and directs our health plan has made significant benefit improvements during my time as the Business Manager, we have also kept an eye on the big picture and the need to be prepared for unforeseen circumstances. By doing our best every day, we were preparing for times like these. I am pleased to report that reductions in the minimum number of hours needed for eligibility for the covered period beginning on October 1, 2020, have been made by the trustees. This reduction in needed hours will result in the vast majority of our member families being covered by our “best in industry” health insurance. It is the result of the dedication and commitment by the Trustees, both union and contractor, in recognizing their duty to each of the Plan’s participants.

To know where you are going, it is sometimes helpful to see where you have been. On September 5, 1882, 10,000 workers took unpaid time off to march from New York’s City Hall to Union Square. They were shining a light on the unsafe and unjust working conditions that most Americans were toiling under. This first Labor Day Parade created a groundswell of support for the working class and became part of a movement that we all have benefited from. Make no mistake about it, Labor Day was not created by our government; it was created by us. Happy Labor Day to all of you and remember that this movement we inherited continues every day by each of us.

It is an understatement to say that there is a lot going on. We all chose to be union members, and members of District Council 35, because we wanted the opportunity to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. We wanted to be a part of a group, a movement that brings positive change to the world. We are ready to help you with any issues that are impacting your work, your families, and your lives. We will do our best today and every day.