Michael Theriault headshot

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.

So began my thirty-three year career in the Building Trades.

The last chapter of that career began on April Fools’ Day 2005, when I took office as Secretary-Treasurer of the San Francisco Building Trades. I quickly encountered new knots, complex challenges too numerous to list here and for which no instructions were provided.

I won’t claim I mastered these new knots perfectly, but I did refuse to fail.

I credit greatly the friendship and advice of Bill Nack, then Chief Executive Officer of the San Mateo Building Trades, and of Bill Wong, then Senior Field Representative for Carpenters 22. Much credit also is due Larry Mazzola, Sr., who often disagreed with me politically but left me room to do my job and supported me in it.

Much credit is due many others, as well. Rank-and-filers, Business Managers and Representatives, Organizers – no Secretary-Treasurer succeeds without their work.

A year ago I informed the Council this term would be my last and urged it to build consensus well before my retirement on my successor. In this way, even though he or she would have to stand for election, the Council could hire him or her as a Business Representative to work beside me awhile. I could teach the knots.

The Council settled on Tim Paulson.

Tim is a tile setter and member of Bricklayers and Allied Crafts 3, a former officer of that local, and a former Council Vice President. Working in Labor outside of the Trades in recent years, he organized janitors for the Service Employees International Union, handled politics for the San Mateo Labor Council, and was Executive Director of the San Francisco Labor Council. Working for the Building Trades is something of a homecoming for him.

And while I have engaged in politics only with a certain distaste, as part of the job, Tim thrives there; he is chair of the California Democratic Party’s Labor Caucus.

He’ll do fine as Secretary-Treasurer of the Council, but he will often need the support and advice on which I myself depended.

I count on you to provide it. As he succeeds, the Council succeeds.

When Workers Stand Together They Win

Tim Paulson

by Tim Paulson, Secretary-Treasurer-Elect
San Francisco Building & Construction Trades Council

P.H. McCarthy, the first Secretary-Treasurer of the Building and Construction Trades Council (1901-1922), was known to clash with the San Francisco Labor Council. That history, a century ago, when the entire labor movement was asserting a major foothold to protect workers in San Francisco, is both painful and exciting to read.

The Building Trades Council fought and secured union-only closed shops and contractors for construction workers at good wages, experimented in innovative solidarity and strikes with other unions, and too often overreached for strength by employing racism and exclusion. And sometimes they’d sell out other unions that were not in the building trades council.

But P.H. McCarthy, like all Secretary-Treasurers of the San Francisco Building Trades Councils, was a tradesman first, a principal officer of his union, Carpenters Local 22, and fought the bosses.

Today the two councils are currently working together to secure two pieces of legislation that will advance and increase wages and benefits to men and women throughout San Francisco: a Citywide Project Labor agreement for construction and amending the City’s Living Wage for the lowest paid workers under City contracts. Both pieces of legislation are languishing in committee and I want to thank all of you who have been to numerous hearings.

One hundred years ago we excluded Asians, Latinos, African Americans and women from unions.

Today many of our best leaders are women, Asian, Latino and African American who actively fight to organize all workers into the trade union movement. Like much of America the Union movement had bad moments but today unions are the only self-sustaining organization that fights for workers’ rights. And despite fighting for good wages, health care, safety, and retirement benefits we fight for women’s rights, civil rights, LGBRQ rights, and immigrant rights.

Together, as union members, we have a voice at work.

On July 6, 2018 I was honored by the 32 unions of this Building Trades Council to be unanimously elected as your next Secretary-Treasurer. Like P.H McCarthy I am a trade unionist first, (BAC Local 3); everything else is second: Democrat, Progressive, etc.

For the past 13 years Mike Theriault and I have worked together as executive officers of San Francisco’s two councils and one of the best things Mike and I did was combine both councils’ offices at 1188 Franklin St. This move helped immensely with collaboration (and prevented us from staying too angry with each other for long….)

I congratulate Mike for his dedication to the labor movement and the building trades. And I am a bit envious as I wish he and his wife, Diana, a well-earned retirement.

Organized Labor


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