Kaiser

Building the Trades

Michael Theriault, Executive Secretary-Treasurer

Michael Theriault, Executive Secretary-Treasurer

Mike has been a member of the Ironworkers Union since 1985. He was appointed as Business Representative with his Local in 2001 to fill out the unexpired term of retiring Randy Oyler. He was elected in his own right to a second term in 2003. Mike has been an active participant in the Business Agents meetings for the last several years. He has worked with Stan Warren and Larry Mazzola in support of union issues at San Francisco City Hall. He has spent long evenings speaking in support of union projects at the City Planning Commission, The Board of Supervisors, The San Francisco Unified School District and the San Francisco City College Board to name a few.

From her office tower’s thirty-first floor, my wife watched my coworkers walking iron on the half of the building she could see, then could no longer bear to watch. That morning, I had strapped on an Iron Worker’s belt for the first time, without a day of training, and was immediately ten stories in the air. The night before, I had practiced and memorized instructions for knots the apprenticeship had provided. Some proved useful right away. I refused to fail.

I've said it before: If more than half the population has little representation among us, we sacrifice a prime source both of future workers and of political support for us and our work.

I am often asked what the boundary in residential construction is between work Building Trades consider theirs and work they concede to the non-union sector. Do we surrender apartment buildings of ten units to the non-union? Twenty units? Forty?

By now, news of my retirement at the end of my term 2 August has made even the pages of the Chronicle. I can claim some accomplishments in my thirteen years in this office. I regret, though, the tasks I haven’t completed.

No Trade is more fundamental to California construction than the rodbuster, whom the Iron Workers represent. No building in California goes up without rebar.

We have seen for some years now a housing crisis in San Francisco and the Bay Area.

You know what might help?

Pensions. Good pensions.

The tax plan passed by the Republican Congress and signed by President Trump last month includes a stealth attack on construction unions.

The so-called "independent contractor" is already widespread in non-union construction. An "independent contractor" in construction is generally a worker who does the same tasks as we do, but who is supposedly no one's employee but his own, even if his shoulder is into the same load as another worker's, and even if he is one among dozens working side-by-side on the same job under the same supervision.

Just hours before this edition of Organized Labor went to press, word came that Mayor Ed Lee had died.

I set aside the column I had been writing, on the likely damage of Republican tax plans to our organizing. That topic, alas, will likely have even more awful clarity next month.

In my column of July 2016, "The Hidden Costs of Modular Construction," I described a presentation in which San Francisco Department of Building Inspection staffers told the Building Inspection Commission that modular construction units were subject to California state building codes but not to more stringent San Francisco codes. The Department's inspectors said they couldn't even "look inside the box," but were restricted to inspecting the exteriors of units, their external connections, and such elements as foundations, corridors, cladding, and roofs.

When in 2014 Supervisor Mark Farrell began to consider legislation establishing a Citywide project labor agreement (PLA) policy, he asked the City Controller's office for a risk-benefit analysis. The Controller's office produced a final draft of that analysis in March 2016. Although not widely disseminated, the analysis is a public document. We have a copy.

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