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.

In 1992 I brought my family to Québec City, on the way to visit cousins in New Brunswick and northern Maine. Our first morning there, we followed standard tourist routine and rode a carriage through the Old City, which dates to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. As our carriage driver, Annie, guided her horse along narrow streets among steep-roofed stone and brick buildings, I noticed that something besides architecture was very different from San Francisco.

In this most unusual of presidential elections, with a Republican candidate whose ascension to this point would have seemed inconceivable to many Americans not so very many months ago, we are permitted to contemplate other outcomes we might once have thought inconceivable. We can muse darkly.

In May, Governor Brown proposed to alter radically the process of approving construction of urban multifamily housing. His proposal for “by-right” or “as-of-right” approvals would exempt such housing from almost all public review if it meets general plan and zoning requirements and includes a proportion of “affordable” housing – deed-restricted only to residents earning 80% or in some cases 50% or less of area median income – that will in San Francisco generally be lower than currently required and than both experience and formal studies have demonstrated possible.

To many a residential developer, both for-profit and nonprofit, multi-family, multi-story modular construction has become as tempting as candy at a supermarket checkout to a toddler waiting in line. Evangelists for modular preach its lower cost, its supposed “greener” fabrication, the speed of its installation. Modular units come not just framed and sheathed, but with plumbing and wiring installed, and usually with their interiors finished all the way through paint, flooring, and cabinets.

Bernie Sanders’s run for the Democratic Party presidential nomination may not be formally ended, but it’s done. His followers will lament that the party’s pulpit is no longer shared by a preacher who favors jeremiads on rising inequality and the failures of the economic system. They – and we – should now remember Occupy.

Readers of Organized Labor who peruse the minutes of Delegates meetings of the San Francisco Building and Construction Trades Council will note this month and next a sequence of contradictory actions.

In late March the California Building and Construction Trades Council and the Laborers’ International Union of North America brought delegations of American trade unionists to Ireland for the centenary of the Easter Rising.

Modular construction has long been a dream of developers. Any business looks to reduce labor costs wherever possible. As inadequate as our wages may be to us in the Trades in this costliest of places to live, to many a business we are an expense that should be reduced.

Every Building Trades worker knows that numbers have consequences; work must fit within numerical tolerances. Exceeding them can turn a project from profitable to money-loser, as damage ripples out into costly adjustments.

Economic debates can seem abstract and even bizarre to those of us who have made livings with hammer or trowel in the world of the real and the solid, but they often determine whether or not such livings are possible.

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