St. Louis – When George “Butch” Welsch, owner and president of Welsch Heating and Cooling, entered the industry 49 years ago, labor and management treated each other as enemies.
That is not the case today, Welsch said, and the benefits are obvious.
“Each of us is not the enemy of the other,” Welsch said. “The enemy competition out there are all those who perform inferior quality work in an attempt to undercut and take the work from us.”
Welsch, a past president of the local chapter of the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors National Association (SMACNA), chair of the organization’s labor committee and co-chair of the Sheet Metal Workers Local 36 pension and welfare trusts, was honored at the St. Louis Port Council’s 32nd Annual Awards dinner May 5 with the Management Man of the Year Award.
“We perform a greater percentage of new residential construction work union in the St. Louis area than any other metropolitan area of the country,” Welsch said. “And, believe it or not, we perform a greater percentage of residential service and replacement work union in the St. Louis area than any other part of the country.”
Welsch credits SMACNA’s success building union in St. Louis to the strong cooperative agreement that exists between SMACNA contractors and Sheet Metal Workers Local 36.
“We have found that by working together in a true partnership we can in fact slow down the influx of non-union workers,” Welsch said.
In addition to working together with Local 36 on jobs, SMACNA made a donation that paid for audiovisual equipment and classroom furniture for Local 36’s recently dedicated headquarters and training facility on Choteau, where the Port Council awards dinner was held.
Other honorees included David Zimmermann, Local 36’s president/business manager, who received the Labor Man of the Year Award, and U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill (D-St. Louis), who was recognized with the Joe Sacco Friend of Labor Award.
Zimmermann proposed and oversaw the construction of Local 36’s new 96,023-square-foot facility on the site of the old Nooter/Missouri Boiler factory at 2319 Choteau.
The $20 million facility, built to LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Platinum standards, combines the union office, benefits office and 56,314 joint apprenticeship training school, which will provide state-of-of-the-art training for more than 3,000 Local 36 members representing more than 150 contractors in St. Louis and eastern Missouri, Columbia, Jefferson City, Springfield and Arkansas.
McCaskill, the senior senator from Missouri, has been a strong supporter of labor unions throughout her political career.
“It is an honor to fight shoulder to shoulder with you,” McCaskill said.
Facing a tough re-election battle this year, McCaskill told a story about the three Republicans who are vying for their party’s nomination to replace her. The three were on a radio program recently and were asked what the state’s minimum wage was. None of the three could answer that question, but each said they thought it was too high.
“Think about that attitude,” McCaskill said. “Think about what that means to the thousands of men and women that we all represent here in this room tonight. That’s who wants to take my place.
“I’ve got to tell you, I know what the minimum wage is. It’s $7.25 and I’ll tell you it’s too goddamn low,” McCaskill said to thunderous applause.
McCaskill touched on her career, starting as a state representative in the 1980s and working her way up as Jackson County prosecutor, state auditor and finally U.S. Senator.
“One thing that’s been a constant in that number of years… has been how proud I have been to stand up for working men and women in this state,” McCaskill said. “If you will have my back for another six months, I promise you this, I will have your back for another six years.”