As 2021 draws to a close, a disturbing number of members and apprentices remain out of work and in dire financial straits. The persistently high rate of unemployment makes it clear that the impact of COVID-19 is still very much with us, and the toll that this pandemic has taken on our industry across the crafts continues to cut us all deeply.
We have 1,300 workers still on the bench. That impacts everything. For individuals and families, it makes this time of year —one that should be all about togetherness, celebration, and joy — sting. Think of the parents who have to borrow from family or explain to a little one why this holiday will be a little less fun, a little less bright, and a little bit lacking in great gifts and good cheer.
No one wants to be in such a position during the holidays, but you can be sure somebody alongside whom you’ve worked is going through it this year. Maybe that person is you.
Thankfully, our movement knows how to come together when it most counts. Take, for example, our friends at Local 798 who run the SF Firefighters Toy Program. This holiday toy collection drive is a labor of love that’s been running since 1949. Built on the idea that no child should be without a toy during the holiday season, the program has evolved into a huge volunteer operation in which SF firefighters and their friends give their time to collect and distribute over 200,000 toys to more than 40,000 disadvantaged children year-round. You can find out more at SFFirefightersToys.org.
Hardship assistance is available for any member who might be in need thanks to a joint program between the SF Labor Council and United Way of the Bay Area, with community services director Tom Ryan at the helm. Members who are struggling should not hesitate to contact their union representatives for help getting signed up for this program or others, and union reps should contact me directly if a member is in need. We at the SF Building Trades Council can help with the referral of services and hardship support.
Let me make it clear: If you’re struggling, please don’t suffer. Ask for help if you need it. As a union worker, your brothers, sisters, and siblings are here for you, no questions asked. And we will help see you through these tough times.
The good news is that there is significant work on the horizon as we head into 2022. The bipartisan infrastructure bill was passed, and we’ve already secured a whopping $4.5 billion in federal funds to build out Bay Area mass transit. That money will allow us to head into Phase 2 of the Transbay Project, which means a lot of very consequential and exciting union work that’ll be covered under the project’s original PLA that was struck back in 2011. (Check out the lead story on page 1 and the first “Top Project” on page 8 for more on Phase 2.)
Many among the leadership — including myself — have been on the stump letting everyone know what the infrastructure bill will do and how it will impact the lives of working families. It’s a big deal. Now we need Sacramento to follow suit and match resources so that we can get people back to work on climate-resilient infrastructure. We can be at the forefront of connecting people to their work, their homes, and opportunity, all while working to mitigate the climate crisis. That’s what Phase 2 of the Transbay Project will do.
I come to you with more than just promises of the future. Let’s not forget how many great projects are currently underway: the biosolids facility for the SF Public Utilities Commission, Mission Rock, and many more. Others will be arriving soon under PLAs, including big builds such as the Potrero power plant and Parcel F. Even more are in the pipeline to be announced next quarter.
As we close out the year and head into a new one, I encourage us all to think about how important it is for every one of our tradespeople to get back to work. Let’s think about how high the stakes are when it comes to every vote on a project, every deal struck with a developer, and every aspect of our work. As special elections and primary elections approach, a big opportunity presents itself for all of us to make sure the voice of working people and families are heard.
We need to be clear-eyed and strategic here, and we need to hit the streets and elect those who have been true friends of the trades and campaign against those who have not. Our candidates need to win so that we can protect our jobs and win new work for the future.
With that, I wish you all a very happy holiday and a successful start to the new year. Here’s to you, and here’s to all of us. Onward and upward, brothers, sisters, and siblings.