by Tim Paulson, Secretary-Treasurer
San Francisco Building & Construction Trades Council
Washington, D.C. is muggy and hot in August. Getting off the plane at Reagan International Airport is like stepping into a gas furnace. And I am not making a metaphor about the anti-worker, anti-union politics of Ronald Reagan or our current President.
I was in the nation’s capital to attend my last meeting as Executive Director of the San Francisco Labor Council. For the last 13 years, I was one of 30 advisors to the AFL-CIO on President Richard Trumka’s committee of labor councils and state federations. There are over 400 central labor councils and 51 state federations in America and this advisory council of colleagues from across the country meets four times a year to compare notes and exchange strategies: Minimum wage campaigns, Project Labor Agreement negotiations, Getting out the Vote strategies, Right to Work defenses…. the kind of things that trade union leaders are supposed to engage in.
I’m going to miss these meetings. This advisory group of labor council and state federation colleagues from New York, Texas, Minnesota, Georgia, Florida, Oregon and throughout the country will be my friends for life. Some were a little bewildered when I accepted the nomination to be the Secretary-Treasurer of the San Francisco Building and Construction Trades Council. I reminded them that I come from the building trades. I am a 30 year member of the Bricklayers, Tilelayers and Allied Craftworkers Local 3 in San Francisco.
In my new job as Secretary-Treasurer of this council I am now reaching out to my newer brothers and sisters in the other Building and Construction Trades Councils in California and the United States to share strategies to protect and promote good union construction jobs. And I am incredibly proud of the 36 San Francisco building trades affiliate unions who have fought to secure collective bargaining agreements for their members to guarantee a living wage standard of living.
Despite the attacks on all unions and workers throughout America, we are not going to let anyone pick us apart. We are private sector, public sector, construction, education, healthcare, public safety, retail, food service, service industry, et al. We are all in the working class, and we committed to standing together against the bosses and the 1% who care about nothing but their profits.
The 8th floor board room at AFL headquarters on 16th St. in D.C., the George Meany conference room, overlooks Lafayette Square and the White House. Much of our discussion regarded the anti-worker and anti-immigrant attacks coming from the guy occupying that historic house that we were overlooking.
The American people elected the last president because they didn’t think that Congress and the Democratic Party could deliver good jobs, affordable housing and healthcare.
The American people voted wrong, and they were lied to by the current president. Nothing has improved since that November election and, frankly, because of our vote, it is getting worse. We are going to change that. Working people want change. That’s why we join unions to have a voice at work.
Last month the Supreme Court in Janus v. AFSCME ruled against Democracy. Corporate judges in an “activist” precedent-setting decision bent the rights of free speech. Historically, if a majority of workers vote to join a union and have a voice at work, you will have collective bargaining with the employer. SCOTUS just ruled that if one single worker in the shop doesn’t want to pay for union representation he or she can still enjoy the benefits of the good paying union contract and not pay a nickel for the work we do to get those contracts. We call those folks scabs. We call them freeloaders. And the Supreme Court just ruled that was OK. They bent the rules and called it “Free speech.” What a joke. But the bosses are clapping.
I had two free hours on Sunday and I decided to visit the National Archives on the Capitol Mall. I wanted to see the original copies of Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution. And I wanted to see its heavily-debated amendments, the Bill of Rights, which guarantee freedom of speech, religion, assembly, and due process - the anchors of our Democracy. I waited in line with the summer tourists to peek at these foundations of our democracy, patiently trudging through the visiting line as we viewed the historic papers inside the protected glass cases.
The original Declaration of Independence is almost invisible and faded. President John Quincy Adams reacted to this deterioration almost 200 years ago and commissioned a sheet metal engraver to reproduce a copper plate of the original document. The plate and a copy of the declaration is on display in a room next door to the dome that houses the originals. (And in that copy the big John Hancock signature is totally alive!)
I am cleaning up the building trades office and have found crumbled up copies of collective bargaining agreements. I didn’t throw them out. I have a sack of them from my years of learning labor history and participating in bargaining sessions.
America, California and San Francisco have a history of writing constitutions and charters and collective bargaining agreements. But nothing comes free. We fight kings and employers and write down the deals.
As I take this new job I am committed to fighting for working men and women and families and immigrants the same as I was committed to do as Executive Director of the Labor Council. Thank you for recruiting me to take on this role at the Building and Construction Trades Council. I look forward to this work.