General President Shares Views on Current Issues Affecting Contract
Glaziers and Other Construction Trades
March 6, 2009
James Williams, general president of the International Union of
Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT) met with both Vice President
Joe Biden and Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis during the AFL-CIO
Executive Council closed door meeting, which took place this week
in Florida. Williams talked to USGNN.com today about the meeting,
some of his concerns and challenges the construction industry is
Q. What were some of your specific concerns/issues you wanted
to see discussed during the meeting with Secretary Holis and Vice
A. With Secretary Holis
my question concerned her knowledge
of unemployment. All too often when people are put on unemployment,
if the unemployment expires in say 26 weeks, once they are off unemployment
no one really [keeps up with] them or they are forgotten.
Secretary Holis is quite aware of the working aspect of it because
she came from immigrant parents. And her concern is for the working
people and I was really happy to hear that.
There were also questions about OSHA standards, which protect the
workers. During the Bush Administration [enforcement] was slashed.
The only thing that was increased was enforcement of the regulatory
issues. So instead of being a Department of Labor (DOL) that protected
the working person, it was more of an inspecting DOL. We voiced
concerns about that.
Joe Biden came in yesterday and that was quite exciting to have
one of the people we supported [in the election] come in. He talked
about being the sheriff of this huge stimulus bill and having to
look out for fraud to make sure that not one penny is misspent.
When you are talking about billions of dollars that's an awesome
thing. If you go back to the Iraq war they found tremendous fraud
right of the bat. As he said to me, 'we're going to build bridges
and build schools and instead of doing it in Iraq we are going to
do it in the United States.' So I think his oversight of the stimulus
package will be a big advantage to the taxpayer. Because it [all
the extra spending] was not looked over during the war and that's
probably what got us into this mess and now we have to turn around
and do double duty-pay for that and get people back to work.
Biden was open and honest and probably spent an hour afterwards
just going around and meeting people. My relationship with him goes
back about 30 years. I was a business agent in Wilmington, Del.,
when he was first running for office. (CLICK
HERE to read Vice President Biden's speech from yesterday)
Q. Did you have a chance to ask questions of him? If so, what
A. I spoke to him off the record
there were 47 people at
the table, everyone would have had questions and we'd still be there.
So he broke it down into individual segments of the federation
building construction trades, public employees, transportation and
manufacturing unions. [And the manufacturers] are the ones who got
hurt, with jobs going overseas and now we're trying to [bring that]
back. And in the stimulus package there is pointed legislation that
says these are for jobs in America.
Q. In regards to the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA)
A. He [Biden] said he supported it, period.
Q. So why do feel it is important for the construction trades?
A. Let's just say it was a 100-percent labor issue. Step aside
and look at our partner, the Finishing Contractors Association (FCA).
All of those groups contribute to the Labor Management Cooperation
Initiative (LMCI). The chairperson of the FCA, Ed Smith of Hartman
Walsh Painting Company, he is also the co-chair of the LMCI. The
FCA supported EFCA. So, forget about the labor end of it and look
at the management end of it. They want a level playing field; so
my contractors want passage of EFCA, too. We've gone in and had
elections where 70-75 percent of the cards were signed (to be union
represented) and because of the stalling of the national labor relations
board it would take a year-and-a-half to two years to get those
people to an election through the board. During that period the
employer could intimidate or just weed the people out [of wanting
the union] and when we come back with the contract there is no one
left. I think the bill itself cleans a lot of things up and the
Labor Department basically says we support collective bargaining
we kind of drifted away from that over the years, but I think
we are going back to it.
Q. How do you respond to the critics of the bill who say that
its takes away
A. You mean the secret ballot? Bullsh^&-100-percent. And I
say that because they have a chance to vote or not vote. Before
forget about EFCA
with an organized company, I had
to get pledge cards signed by the same people. So were they worrying
about the secret ballot then? This year, before the bill is passed,
if I want to organize a company with ten people, and six people
sign a card
I don't even need six people
I only need
three in order to take it to an election (30 percent). Those three
people sign a card and seven don't, do you realize what it's like
for those three people at that company? Do you realize how long
they are going to be there? So if you are going to a majority, it's
just the fairness of the issue. That secret ballot thing and the
big unions want to take [it] away, that's bullsh^&.
Q. Looking at what's happening right now with the construction
market, what are some things you'd like to see happen/areas addressed
by the government? What do you think are some measures that could
help get things moving again?
A. The stimulus package is going to address infrastructure needs
that are far too long overlooked. Putting the money into these shovel
ready jobs that are immediately ready to start up. We've kind of
failed miserably with the stimulus package with the banks. Now,
hopefully the stimulus package by the Obama administration will
put people back to work so they can spend money and pay taxes, because
it is quite scary. I represent people that live week-to-week with
their paychecks and they are not socking away 10-20 percent of their
paychecks for a rainy day, so this has definitely affected my members
and I feel for them.
Q. What were some green building discussion points?
A. That's a big portion of the stimulus package. You have a lot
[of that] with the glass industry there. I think that people have
to get confidence back in the country and they have to support the
president, and that does not mean they have to be all democrats.
Q. How long will it take do you think for this to start moving
forward and helping people?
The economists we had at our meeting said they do not see a turnaround
until the first quarter of next year. I hope that it does come by
then. I know a lot of our members are hurting now. We are in meetings
to change some of our benefits to better help the members facing
Q. What do they plan to do with apprenticeship classes now that
so many journeymen are sitting idle?
A. We cannot stop taking people into this organization and we have
to continue the apprenticeship programs. The last quarter of last
year we were down 3 percent in hours; I'm sure that January-March
of this year we will be down at least that or more in hours. That
offers up the availability of training in upgrade classes for our
journeyman glaziers, so we will continue to train and continue to
educate. And look on the other side of this because there are a
lot who are teetering on retirement. They could live on retirement.
You might see more people going on retirement as a secured income
rather than trying to sit around and wait for the next job to break.
So we will track our retirement to numbers to see if they go up
that we have the people to replace them.
Q. I understand that there are a lot of older guys working part
time the last few years. Are you encouraging them to retire?
A. That's a personal decision, but I know when we went through
a similar down period in the late 1980s I offered an [early retirement]
window in our pension fund, to then bring in younger people, drop
your average age and then help your actuarial rate with your pension.
Q. With these tight construction times are you feeling more
A. Not really, they are hurting just as much as we are. If you
have a stable union contractor and he has to sharpen his pencil,
he'll sharpen his pencil and get the job. The non-unions are going
to be lining off just like the unions. The only difference is when
a non-union glazier gets laid off, he goes to another company and
he's starting all over again. A guy who works himself up to $15/hour
as a non-union glazier, and he went to work for XYZ after being
with ABC, now he's starting back at $8 or $9 an hour.
Q. What are you doing to police your own members and keep them
from taking on side jobs?
A. It's more prevalent in painting and drywall than glazing. In
the glazing industry, I can honestly say that in my 17 years in
Philadelphia, and the Philadelphia glazier union is the largest
in the country, I don't think I've had to discipline more than two
people. In the glazing business, you're looking at an initial investment
of $75,000; you want to paint a house, you're looking at a station
wagon or a van. Bidding a job in glazing, you could have 70-80 percent
cost be for material, which means you lay that money out before
you do the job. If I am going to finish some drywall, I can go down
to Home Depot and buy three buckets of mud. They are completely
different industries. And for me, as general president, I have to
make myself aware of them all and the differences between them.
Q. Are you ever worried about being absorbed by a bigger or
A. Not to sound egotistical, but our organization is so tight,
that that's the last of my fears. And I say that for many reasons
we have not raised per capita in three of the last five years,
so our members' dues are much lower on a national level than a lot
of the other building trades; we're sixth or seventh in size in
the building trades; and we are second in per capita. So on that
end, I do not see that happening. Plus, we have been building for
this downtime; I have been talking about for the last seven years.
We have the largest reserves in our general funds in our history
of our international. And we have a pretty tight-knit organization
like a family really.
Q. What do you worry about?
A. I worry about what's happening to the financial markets in the
country and the stock market
we had a very, very good year
on our pension fund that was a negative good year because of the
stock market. I worry about the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation
think of those poor guys who had a 401K during this period.
Compared to a defined benefit like the pension fund, if I was planning
for retirement and I had $600,000 in my 401K, now the stock market
is right in half of what the high point was. So that $600,000 is
how can I retire? So that scares me. We have
diversification of our pension funds, and we are still in the green
zone, as they say in pension funds. It's good, though not 100-percent
funded-our last reporting period was 82 or 83 percent funded-we
will probably drop to the yellow zone, but we will take action to
fix that. So, that does worry me, but that's worrying everyone in
the country right now. I say, you can't make my job any better than
it is; my job is to make it better for the people I represent.
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