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“You’ve Got to Put Something in the Ground”: Future of the CA Building Trades is Brighter than Ever

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As he spoke at the groundbreaking ceremony for the state’s high-speed rail system, Governor Jerry Brown praised construction workers and their leadership in helping move California’s economy forward.  At the height of the economic recession the State Building and Construction Trades Council (SBCTC) saw unemployment soar to 60 percent among its 400,000 members.  Now, innovative partnerships, a revamped job market, and Brown’s final term agenda have the trades surging.

As Brown explained to the crowd, getting tradesmen and women back to work provides a major economic boost:

“You’ve got to put something in the ground,” Brown said, riffing on what drives economic growth. “You’ve got to get these building trades men and women doing stuff. That’s what makes America — what makes the world — go ’round.”

SBCTC President Robbie Hunter explained that Brown’s plans, combined with public projects that began to pile up during the recession, have created the opportunity.  The group’s relationships and hard work have delivered jobs to the members of the organization’s 14 affiliated unions.  Hunter told the The Los Angeles Times he views the BCTC’s relationship with Gov. Brown as necessary for him to move forward with his agenda. “The need is there, and the governor sees it,” Hunter said.  

Former State Senate leader Darrell Steinberg also touched on this relationship:

“The governor’s priorities are … enhanced by the fact that we have a strong trades movement. The workers “have a sophisticated political force behind them.”

For the SBCTC the plan seems simple: help those who can help you.  The group is not partisan-specific in its political relationship building. Both Democrats and Republicans have become allies on important worker issues.  They have also aligned themselves with public employee unions and cultivated solid relationships with the businesses that hire their members.  Hunter has worked hard to buck the rigid ideas of labor and management clashing.

Rob Lapsley, president of the California Business Roundtable, invited Hunter to speak at his board meeting last year:

“They teach people a lifelong trade,” he said. “They take someone who may not be going to college and give them a skill set that is vital to California’s economy.”

Of all the sectors Hunter has approached, perhaps the most fruitful has been the environmental community.  The relationship began to flourish when the SBCTC supported the state’s trademark environmental law, the California Environmental Quality Act.

Hunter recently attended a kickoff event for Sen. Kevin De Leon, who is introducing a package of bills dealing with climate change. The bills will create green jobs for SBCTC workers.  The SBCTC has also amped up its support of Gov. Brown’s plan to cut carbon emissions.  The move follows Brown’s work with environmentalists to breath new life into the stalled $68 billion bullet train project.  Last year, the governor persuaded the legislature to donate a quarter of the funds collected from the state’s largest polluters to the project.  The bullet train will be built with 100 percent union labor.  

In California, the construction trades are barreling full-speed through a tunnel of work; nearly a decade’s worth. It’s a collective sigh of relief for a group that spent recent years staring into the dark abyss of the Great Recession.


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