THE POWER OF AN ORGANIZED WORKFORCE
LIUNA General President Terry O’Sullivan calls for swift approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline at a rally in front of the AFL-CIO, flanked by LIUNA Vice President and Mid-Atlantic Regional Manager Dennis Martire (left) and LIUNA Vice President and Midwest Regional Manager John Penn (right). Photo: Ed Rehfeld/LECET
General President O’Sullivan speaks to the crowd at the rally. Photo: Bill Burke/Page One
May 6, 2013: Last month, the large crowd of Laborers and other building trades members pictured here gathered in front of AFL-CIO headquarters to call for quick approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline. Many were in town to attend the annual AFL-CIO Building and Construction Trades Department (BCTD) Legislative Conference in Washington, DC. Others came to Washington specifically to take part in the rally. Speakers at the event included a U.S. Marine who graduated from the BCTD’s Helmets to Hardhats program, BCTD President Sean McGarvey, and Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA) General President Terry O’Sullivan. O’Sullivan’s remarks, captured in the following video, reflected both LIUNA’s ongoing commitment to this critical infrastructure project, and his own frustration that it is still being debated, more than four years after TransCanada first sought a cross-border permit.
“The end result is that we’re still standing here today at a rally when we shouldn’t have to be complaining about Keystone,” O’Sullivan shouted. “We should have building trades men and women working, but we don’t because it’s all about politics.”
As O’Sullivan makes clear about two-and-a-half minutes into the clip, he and LIUNA are not afraid to stand up even to a few non-building-trades unions that have opposed the pipeline despite having no equity stake in it.
“We gotta raise our voices so the White House hears it,” O’Sullivan yelled. “We gotta raise our voices so Congress hears it. And to be honest, we gotta raise our voices so some of these other characters in the AFL-CIO hear us as well.”
A little later in his remarks, O’Sullivan also makes clear that the fight on behalf of the Keystone XL isn’t just about jobs for members of LIUNA, but about American jobs and American energy independence.
“What we gotta do, is today. . . we draw a line in the sand with everybody, friend and foe. We draw a line in the sand that we’re about America; we’re about American jobs! . . . Can you imagine paying these damn crazy countries that we get our oil from instead of our brothers and sisters in Canada that are part of the North American labor movement?”
This is not the first time that a large crowd of orange-shirted LIUNA members and their brothers and sisters in other building trades unions have turned out to support this pipeline. The following video clip shows another gathering of union members sending a simple message to President Obama: approve the Keystone XL. One speaker puts the benefits of the project in terms that are powerful and easy to understand: “it’ll allow us to get some bills paid, put some food on the table and a roof over our heads.”
LIUNA, LECET, and its affiliates have rallied, testified at public meetings, published opinion articles, written letters to the editor, and called in to radio shows to support the Keystone XL. LIUNA members have posted pro-Keystone items on Facebook, Twitter, other social media sites, and blogs. They have talked up the pipeline to, and answered the concerns of, friends and neighbors. Most important, LIUNA Local Unions and District Councils along the pipeline’s proposed path have repeatedly turned out supporters who live in, and are part of, the communities that will be directly affected by the pipeline.
Members of LIUNA and other building trades unions show their support for the Keystone XL at a rally outside the AFL-CIO. Photo: Bill Burke/Page One
This active support of the Keystone XL is not coincidental; it is an integral part of the way that LIUNA operates. At the local, state, provincial, and federal level, LIUNA works closely with owners, contractors, and business groups to support programs and policies that generate projects and jobs. For decades, they have been engaged in legislative and policy discussions and battles involving transportation, energy, water and sewer systems, school construction, and many other issues that directly affect Laborers and their employers.
LIUNA members turn out to support the Keystone XL Pipeline at public hearings in Nebraska. Photo: Midwest LECET
The extent of LIUNA’s involvement with the Keystone XL and other key issues is the direct result of representing an organized workforce; of being a labor union. Only LIUNA and other building trades unions have the presence, reach, and resources to mobilize large numbers of working people in support of projects that will put them and their employers to work. Because members of LIUNA and other building trades unions see their work as part of a career, and not just as a temporary job, they have a vested interest in the construction industry, and in seeing projects like the Keystone XL Pipeline move forward.
2011: Members of LIUNA march from LIUNA Headquarters to State Department hearings on the Keystone XL Pipeline. Photo: Ed Rehfeld/LECET
This activism is one of many reasons the construction industry and its clients in the energy business need building trades unions. Without building trades unions, none of what is depicted in these images and videos could have taken place. Imagine a construction industry without LIUNA and its brother and sister unions of the BCTD, and you must imagine all the working men and women in these images gone as well, leaving the grassroots field in this debate wide open to project opponents. You must imagine public hearings in which Keystone XL opponents far outnumber proponents, and where owner and contractor representatives are viewed only as outsiders. You must imagine a political landscape in which the only organized grassroots voices are anti-energy, anti-development, anti-construction, and anti-growth. Without LIUNA and other building trades unions, construction workers would have weaker connections to the industry as a whole, less reason to care about its future, and few ways to act meaningfully on its behalf.
A LIUNA member marches with his brothers and sisters on behalf of the Keystone XL Pipeline. Photo: Ed Rehfeld/LECET
Contractors and owners who work with LIUNA get more than a highly productive, safe, skilled workforce. They get a workforce that is as concerned about, and as invested in, their industry as they are, and an international organization willing to help generate, find, and defend, projects and jobs.
Ed Rehfeld, Manager of Communications