These Are Our Times by Wayne Murphy

 In News, Newsletter: Summer '19

The alternate universe continues at Pennsylvania Avenue. When our current president was elected, he promised a massive infrastructure investment that would stem the tide of the country’s crumbling roads, bridges, airports and more. That promise was made over two years ago. The president’s recent Rose Garden tirade came with the proclamation that there would be no infrastructure talks until the United States Congress gave up its sworn obligation and stopped performing its mandated oversight duties. Nearly every elected official, regardless of political affiliation, is supportive of committing the funds needed to end the jeopardy to public safety and health. A well thought out, comprehensive infrastructure package will spur long-term economic growth and provide countless well-paying jobs for working-class men and women. Like most reasonable ideas in Washington nowadays, it has gotten nowhere.

The administration in Washington commissioned a Presidential Taskforce on Apprenticeship to suggest changes and modifications to Department of Labor rules concerning registered apprenticeship programs. As you know, the apprenticeship programs of the Building Trades are the gold standard and produce the best trained, safest workforce in the world. The proposed rule promulgated, “Industry-Recognized Apprenticeship Programs”, has the potential to drastically weaken the efficiency and strength of worker training programs within the building trades. The proposed rule has, for now, exempted the construction industry. This has the potential to be only a temporary reprieve. The public comment period on the proposed rule is open and you can be sure that the anti-union forces will be working day and night to have the construction industry exemption removed permanently. This would lead to a poorly regulated system of worker training and would be harmful to both our newer members and our signatory contractors. The IUPAT and each of the Finishing Trades Institutes across the country, including our own FTI, has been working non-stop to educate our members and the public about this proposed rule. Please be in touch with the FTI-NE to find out more about how you can add your voice to this discussion and help preserve our apprenticeship training model.

The Rehabilitation for Multi-Employer Pensions Act, filed this past January by Massachusetts Congressman Richard Neal, continues its journey through the House of Representatives. On July 18, 2019, the bill was favorably reported out by the House Ways and Means Committee with a recommendation that the full House pass the legislation. A date for the vote has not yet been set. Assuming a positive vote, it will then go to the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate which will require much more advocacy, as it does not appear the Senate has the will or the inclination to address this problem. This legislation would be a huge step in the right direction, and the outcome would be a far cry from the rumors we were hearing from the Joint Select Committee toward the end of 2018. We have been in communication with every co-sponsor of the bill, and I have had face-to-face meetings with elected officials and Ways and Means staff to educate them and advocate our position to them.

For our public sector members, the Government Affairs Department has been closely following post-Janus legislation that has successfully made its way through both the Massachusetts House of Representatives and Senate. The Bill (H 3854) would allow public sector unions to charge non-members for costs associated with work performed on their behalf, such as the processing of grievances. The bill was sent to Governor Baker for enactment, but he returned it to the legislature with suggested amendments. We are awaiting the next step in the process and are in constant communication with members of the legislature to voice our support for the These are our times 25 proposed legislation.

The Janus Supreme Court decision has also resulted in attacks on long-held labor principles within the public sector. The game plan of big corporate interests is to weaken the power of public employees to join in solidarity and collectively bargain. The blueprint will then be brought to private industry. In late April, the Supreme Court of Massachusetts issued its decision in the case of Branch v. Commonwealth Employment Relations Board. The people who brought the lawsuit are all public sector educators who work as non-members of certain designated bargaining units. With assistance from the National Right to Work Foundation, the lawsuit sought to eliminate the exclusive representation clause applicable to public employees that has long been a principle bedrock of Massachusetts labor law. Massachusetts’ highest court ruled against the plaintiffs and held that the exclusive representation clause for public sector unions and employees was not to be disturbed. As this newsletter goes to print, the plaintiffs have petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to review the decision. We will await word from Washington as to whether the case will be subject to further review.

As you can see, the Government Affairs Department is busy advocating for the best interests of our membership and the greater organized labor movement. The connection between the work of this department and the other departments of the District Council is critical and impactful. BMST Sullivan completely understands the importance of electoral politics and legislative advocacy and devotes the necessary resources to ensure that our interests are safeguarded. I urge you to educate yourself on issues that will affect you and your family. An educated worker is a better worker. Politics and legislation matter. We are stronger together. It has never been more important than in these times