By CARL GREEN
Collinsville – The harsh reality of having an anti-union governor is starting to show in the Metro East, where union leaders are talking about how to fight back.
A BRIDGE TOO FAR
Dale Stewart, executive secretary-treasurer of the Southern Illinois Building & Construction Trades Council, told business reps at a recent meeting about one rural county nearby that needs to rebuild an old bridge.
The county would normally work with Stewart to get the job done under a Project Labor Agreement.
But not now. The county has been told not to – by the new state government.
“The county board chairman’s insisting on having our PLA on it,” Stewart said. “But the Department of Transportation called him back and said, ‘If you want to build a bridge, you’re going to build it without a PLA. Make up your mind which you’re going to do.’ ”
Stewart said the next step will be for union-friendly contractors to talk to the governor’s office and try to work something out.
“The worst-case scenario is if a non-union contractor gets that bridge, we’ll probably go into court and try to get some kind of temporary restraining order against them, because they’ve got a PLA with us but they were told not to, so we’re going to find out why.
“These are the kinds of things we’re under, and it’s going to get a lot worse before it gets better.”
Totsie Bailey, president of the Council and Business Manager of Steamfitters Local 439, chimed in.
“I hear a lot of guys – some of the members – say they don’t think we ought to be in politics,” he said. “But this is a perfect example of what happens.”
The Council watched a video from Indiana in which a series of contractors explain how working with unions ensures better quality work, protects residents’ jobs and actually costs less overall than using poorly trained non-union crews from out of state.
The video was made to protect that state’s prevailing wage laws, which ensure fair and equitable pay rates.
Stewart commented: “I hope everybody understands, moving forward with this prevailing wage thing, how important it is.
I serve on this workforce investment board for Madison and St. Clair counties. Every month I go meet with them, and all they talk about is this huge manpower shortage we’re going to have, especially in construction, and here the governor wants to talk about reducing our wages. It’s hard to get people even to come into our industry.
“We’re definitely on the battle line right now. This governor is coming after us in all aspects. We’ve got to stay focused on this, we’ve got to get our plan put in place on what we’re going to do.”
Tim Evans, business manager and financial secretary for IBEW Local 309, based in Collinsville, recounted his experience at a recent Highland City Council meeting.
“You could see them just shuffling papers – kind of ignoring us – on a project that we’ve bid heavy up there. They turned it over to a non-union entity,” he said.
“The mayor, all of them, acted like we weren’t even there. The city manager couldn’t care less if we were even present at that meeting. You speak, and they’re shuffling their papers, looking down and not paying attention.
“That’s where I see a lot of these cities are.”
Stewart described a recent meeting he attended between Rauner and local business leaders. He didn’t much like what he heard.
“To listen to this guy is really a little sickening,” he said. “He spent close to 20 minutes saying that labor unions are what’s killing the middle class … and how it costs more if you do it with labor, and how you can get rid of them.
“It’s strictly because he’s in that 1 percent mode, and he’s never had anybody tell him no. He’s really, really after the unions. It’s pretty eye-opening to sit and listen to him go on about it.”
NOT ALL BAD
Still, there was good news. The big construction project at the Phillips 66 Wood River Refinery will employ close to 1,700 trades members this fall, and workers have been busy on improvements to the Mississippi River levee system. “I think this year’s going to be a good year for us,” Stewart said.
Stewart ended on a hopeful note.
“Guys, we can get through this,” he said. “We took on tougher fights in the past. Our forefathers had it worse than we’ve ever seen it, and they came through it.
“We’ve just got to realize how serious this is. The next 30 to 45 days, you’ll start seeing it heat up a little.”