The question of the economic costs involved with any labor strike is a legitimate concern that must be fairly weighed. If the measure is only in the short term, the results are certain. No one, not the worker or the employer will benefit.
Few modern day strikes are called for just monetary matters; for it would be unprincipled to do so. Our current situation calls for a greater understanding. Yes, we have reached this troubled position with a wage impasse in the forefront of the discussion but our concern runs much deeper than a few pennies here and a few pennies there.
The MCA negotiators, without providing economic proof of their position, proposed slashing our current wage and benefit package by $5.50/hour. Their modified proposal was just as ridiculous. They wanted us to work for the next 5 years with cuts and slight additions that would essentially equal a 0% increase in our wage and benefit package. Their final offer of an average increase of less than 1.5% per year is ludicrous and was rejected by our membership because it would not even cover the expected rise in the cost of our Funds.
It should be clearly understood that the contractors know our future financial obligations to the Pension, Medical, and Apprentice Funds. They also know that these obligations are not ours alone. They have a serious financial stake in the fiscal soundness of our Pension Fund and have committed to share in the cost of our Apprentice and Journeyman Training Programs. They also know that our Medical Fund will be directly impacted by the Federal Health Care Reforms.
Yes, the national economy continues to waver but our area remains more robust than just about any locality in the country. Yes, some of our members have worked fewer overtime hours. Yes, some of our shops avoided layoffs by working reduced hours in 2009. Yes, we have witnessed a rise in unemployment but our less than 5% rate is far below the national average.
I understand the impact of unemployment. I was laid off for several months in 2009. It was an especially difficult year for many Union households. However, it should be understood that our total man-hours have remained at or above the 2007 numbers.
Even though we have suffered through difficult times our Union has made the ongoing commitment to provide our contractors with the best-trained workforce in the nation. Our membership has continued to rise through organizing and through the Apprentice program throughout the lean years and times of plenty. It is a tribute to our organizers, officers, apprentice coordinators, and teachers that we have done so in the past and remain committed to do so in the future. We have grown by hundreds since 2007 and we have potentially added another 150 men and women with our incoming apprentice class. We expect to do so, or more, well into the future. Organizing and modern training has been the secret of our success throughout our history in the United Association.
The MCA has continually urged us to expand our Apprentice and Journeyman Training Programs. Prior to our last contract, we built a modern welding shop in Landover. Since then, they asked us to expand our training facilities into Virginia and we have done so. During this last contract we renovated and purchased a school site in Northern Virginia. The contractors have contributed approximately 5% to cover the cost of this last expansion but the lion share of all apprentice and journeyman training continues to come out of our pockets, not theirs. We now spend millions to guarantee their success and we expect that they would appreciate our ongoing commitment.
The MCA negotiators have suggested that we could pull money out of our contributions to the Annuity Fund to meet our future obligations to the Pension, Medical, Apprentice and Journeyman Training Funds. We have categorically rejected this proposal. We will continue to do so no matter where this leads. We will not borrow against our individual members’ current and future savings to give ourselves a raise.
Let me conclude this article with a lesson learned from my Steamfitter father. Any man that would take money out of your pocket would just as soon take food out all of our children’s mouths, take clothes of their backs, and deny them shelter, medicine, and a decent education. Once that is done, they will then make you a burden to your family. I believe that this sums up our position.
The Strike of 2010, if there is one, will have little to do about any one of our own personal situations. It will, however, have everything to do about our collective responsibilities to our larger Union family. An injury to one is an injury to all. We will remain united and in support of one another. We are a Union and we are in Solidarity to a just CAUSE.