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Mar
2012
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“We need to reach out to change stereotypes of labor.”

Pat Kellett is looking to help change the role of unions in his new job as director of marketing and business development for the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry of the United States and Canada (UA). Last year’s St. Louis Building and Construction Trades Council Labor Man of the Year, the former business manager and secretary-treasurer of UA Local 562, recently did an interview with STL Today in which he talked about his past successes and his vision for the future of labor:

These have been tough times for unions. What more can be done to help unions regain their strength?

We have to prove our value. The old ways aren’t going to work anymore. And it’s not that hard to do. I think there’s a disconnect with businesses and the general population on the value of skill and safety that organized labor provides. We need to reach out to change stereotypes of labor.

Organized labor is very safety-oriented. In St. Louis, Local 562 was the first union to enforce drug testing in 1992. And ongoing education is part of our day-to-day operations to advance skill.

What we like about our contractors is that they design it, they build it and they maintain it. We’re part of that process, to avoid rework and change orders compared to the nonunion competition. If we’re going to regain our strength, we have to get that message to our membership and the public. Our productivity is at an all-time high in the country. And I think organized labor is an important part of that.

You went to China to support trade with the Chinese. Is such international trade the wave of the future?

Definitely. We’re in a global economy. That’s all we read and hear about.

We have already expanded to other countries. We have labor codes that we share with Canada. We’re in the process of sharing these with Australia.

We clearly need to grow our connections internationally. That’s what we tried to do with the St. Louis-China hub. But we have to explore all possibilities.

We’re going to build relationships and get into the boardrooms. In this global economy, I definitely think international trade is the wave of the future. For example, local fabrication of construction products such as specialized piping and modular building is an important part of our business. And it’s pretty easy to ship things throughout the world. Canada, countries in South America and a host of other countries are using products produced right here in St. Louis.

Meanwhile, how can unions continue to cope with the effects of the recession?

I don’t think there will be a great improvement immediately. But history tells us that the economy will eventually get better.

Bad economy or not, we see a lot of work in the General Motors plant in Wentzville, the planned Emerald Automotive Plant in Hazelwood and institutional projects such as health care and educational facilities. There are still going to be opportunities for union members to go to work in the future.

In the meantime, we’ve shared with our unemployed, and we’ve shared dramatically. Our “562 Unemployment Assistance” program helps members struggling to pay utilities, food, rent or mortgage, prescriptions, clothing and other financial issues.

Are there ways unions can cooperate better with management?

My one word is certainly. We have reached out to management since the founding of PRIDE 40 years ago, and we are going to continue to listen to management. Management also needs to understand that our members have a lot to offer, and hopefully they continue to reach out to us.

Read the entire interview HERE.

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One Comment on ““We need to reach out to change stereotypes of labor.””

  1. I would agree, organized labor must become more responsive to their membership. Probably the best way to accomplish this would be to hold a union recertification election every three years. This would force unions to become extremely membership focused. Of course no union would actually implement such a radical idea of putting the member first.

    If they were willing to develop such a program you would start seeing resurgence in bottom up organizing. The membership would be able to see the shift from a unions national agenda, to a purely member focused agenda. Sure they would have a couple years of hard times becoming more responsive to their membership but it could be the one item that could turn the union movement around.

    Organized labor would hate it. Instead of rising to the challenge and becoming stronger through the process I am sure they would feel it would decimate its ranks.

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