We Are Here For Each Other by Jeff Sullivan

 In News, Newsletter: Summer '19

We recently held our annual retirees’ cookout. Without a doubt, it is one of my favorite events on our calendar and I look forward to it every year. It gives the staff here at District Council 35 an opportunity to establish or continue real friendships with past generations of tradesmen and women and gives us all a chance to say “Thank You” to those who came before us. For me, the cookout gives me a new insight into what it truly means to be a member of a Union, in particular, a member of District Council 35.

Solidarity is a word we toss around a lot in the building trades, and perhaps because of its overuse, it has lost some of it meaning in our daily professional and personal lives. Solidarity became the word attributed to the trade union movement in Poland in the 1980s that inspired massive political and social change throughout Europe. For us, solidarity is a commitment to support each other and work towards a common goal. Our goal is the improved lives of every one of our members and her or his family. To realize this goal each one of us needs to understand that we are stronger together. A single member will not rise unless we all rise. On a daily basis, each of the departments of the District Council work seamlessly together to strive to our common goal.

Our Servicing Department ensures that our members’ rights under the various Collective Bargaining Agreements are protected. The Organizing Department strives to open new work opportunities for our members and also reaches out to a new generation of workers who are seeking a better life. The Government Affairs staff promotes, educates and advocates for our values throughout the state legislatures within our region and also before the federal government in Washington, D.C. While the responsibilities of our various departments are varied, there is a common thread in all that we do. This thread is to strengthen the union movement.

Sometimes true solidarity requires an individual to consider the value to the whole group rather than just the personal impact. I was again reminded of this as I spoke with our retirees last month and realized that many of the working conditions that some may take for granted were actually the result of long and hard-fought battles by past generations of workers. Today’s common rules around worker safety, training and work conditions did not just mysteriously appear one day; rather, each of these improvements was the result of a united group of workers who sought to make things better for themselves and for future workers. Those future workers are us; and we have the same obligation to make better the lives of future union members.

When one of us brings attention to a work jurisdictional issue, a safety concern or a contract violation, we all benefit. When you vote on an increased allocation under our contract and choose to fund our health and retirement plans, you are wisely providing for yourselves but, just as importantly, for future workers and future retirees. And let’s face it, we’re all going to be retirees one day. It’s about seeing the big picture and understanding why we are so much stronger when we act collectively. From job actions on the street to the halls of the most powerful governmental institutions in our country, your staff at District Council 35 works tirelessly every day to bring to the life the ideal of solidarity.

These are some of the reasons why I love the Retirees’ Cookout because it gives me a chance to take a step back and get the big picture of how we have come so far. It’s also the reason why I am so proud to lead this great organization. The improvements we have made across all areas of union life during my time as BMST have all been driven by a firm belief that we all do better when we join together.

I am preparing for August’s IUPAT General Convention where we will have an opportunity to meet with union members from across North America and set the course for the future of our union. Many of the DC 35 staff have been selected by General President Rigmaiden to serve on some of the most impactful committees at the Convention. This is a testament to the quality of work being done in our region and a testament to each and every member of District Council 35.

Like most lofty goals, true solidarity, and the benefits that come from it, sometimes seem unattainable. The reality is that to reach our goals we must walk a certain path every single day. Before you know it, we will have reached our goal.