‘Bread-and-butter’ politics dominate Building Trades convention

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Jobs, education, health care, transportation – bread and butter issues – dominated the Minnesota Building Trades’ annual convention, where the focus was clearly on this fall’s elections.

Retired Sheet Metal Workers representative George Sundstrom set the tone in a rousing speech that condemned the current administrations in Washington and St. Paul.

“To Bush, Cheney and Rove, there’s nothing wrong with this country that a constitutional amendment banning flag burning and same-sex marriage can’t fix, or another tax cut for people who don’t need it,” he said to loud applause. Sundstrom and others said Minnesotans need to elect public officials who will support working people and not destroy their jobs, retirement security and health care.

“We can’t change what has been, but we can affect what will be. We can and we must,” Sundstrom said. “Building Trades members have never been afraid of a fight. It’s time to stand and fight again.”

Delegates to the convention, held July 26 to 28 in Duluth, heard from many of the labor-endorsed candidates they will be backing in the November election. DFL gubernatorial candidate Mike Hatch and his running mate, Judi Dutcher, were greeted by a standing ovation as they pledged to continue their support of working people if elected.

Jim Klobuchar appeared on behalf of his daughter, Amy, the labor-endorsed candidate for U.S. Senate. He spoke of the hard times he experienced growing up on the Iron Range during the Great Depression.

“We had practically nothing in the Depression, but we had one thing we don’t have today and that is trust in the United States government,” he said.

In addition, delegates heard from Steve Kelley, the Building Trades’ new candidate in the race for DFL endorsement for attorney general. Kelley, who filed after previous endorsee Matt Entenza dropped out, also recently won the backing of AFSCME Council 5 and Education Minnesota.

Unions represented at the convention ranged from the Bricklayers and Carpenters to Pipefitters, Electricians and Operating Engineers, among others. The governor and legislators have a direct impact on Building Trades members, who work in every area of construction and related fields.
Delegates gathered in Duluth for the annual Building Trades convention.

Minnesota Building Trades President Dick Anfang recounted the attack by Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s administration on the unions’ apprentice system – considered the backbone of the Building Trades. Unions beat back the administration’s attempt to lower wage rates for apprentices, but “the fight is not over,” Anfang warned. “The most certain way to eliminate this threat is to remove Gov. Pawlenty from office.”

The Pawlenty administration also has attacked prevailing wages for construction workers – which prevent outside contractors from undercutting local companies – and project labor agreements for publicly funded construction.

In addition to working on behalf of labor-endorsed candidates, Building Trades unions are supporting a ballot measure to amend the Minnesota constitution to provide more money for roads and transit. The amendment would dedicate $300 million per year from the motor vehicle sales tax to transportation and transit. Currently, much of that money is diverted for other purposes.

The Building Trades estimate at least 5,000 construction jobs will be created when the funding increase is fully phased in after five years. Supporters say phasing in the dedicated appropriation will minimize the impact on other programs.

For more information on the campaign “Vote Yes for Better Roads and Transit,” go to “www.voteyesmn.org”:http://www.voteyesmn.org.

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