The New Year Offers Opportunities

Charles W. Jones, International President Emeritus

We Must Be Prepared to Take Advantage of Them

Looking forward into 1998, I am cautiously optimistic for all workers, but especially for unionized workers, and most especially for Boilermaker members. We won some gains in 1997, and the outlook for 1998 is promising.

In the political arena, workers had one major victory in 1997. We were able to defeat the fast-track authority for expanding NAFTA, despite an alliance between President Clinton and Newt Gingrich to force it through Congress. We also managed to hold on to Davis-Bacon, convince the FTC to retain a strong "Made in the U.S.A." label, stop Congress from raising the Social Security retirement age, and maintain funding for OSHA and the NLRB.

Within the Boilermakers union, we saw some excellent successes in negotiating good contracts for our members. The Southeast Area Agreement contains better improvements than we've seen in that area in over a decade. Our newest division, the Professional EMTs and Paramedics (PEP), have negotiated their first contract with AMR in Denver. We have an agreement at American Crane after many years of hard negotiating. And in many other areas, local lodges are finding ways to get better contracts out of even the most stubborn employers.

Contract improvements are always encouraging, not only for the improvements they bring, but for what they say about our union. They show solidarity, firmness, and resolve among the members of the lodges. You cannot bargain a good contract without strong support from the men and women who must work under that contract.

You cannot bargain a good contract without strong support from the men and women who must work under that contract.

Members in our construction division are also seeing signs of hope for a better year. According to the Engineering News Record, planned construction in the industries we serve will be as much as four percent higher in 1998 than in 1997. That means an increase of over $500 million. Boilermaker craftsmen are in a good position to work much of that increase, but we must be willing to go after and do what is necessary to get it.

What is necessary is to make sure that the owners - the ones who pay for all that construction - recognize that using Boilermaker craftsmen will provide them with the best product and the best service they can get.

Our construction marketing program can do part of that. Business managers and reps. can explain to owners how our innovative M.O.S.T. programs and superior apprentice training save owners money. They can point to the hundreds of jobs we complete each year - on time, within budget, and with a safety record that improves daily.

They can show how our hazard recognition programs, combined with drug and alcohol screening and a union-wide drive toward safety awareness, have reduced our lost-time accident rate to one-fourth what it was only six years ago. This improved safety performance means that thousands of accidents never occurred. Based on industry averages, avoiding those accidents saved at least $969 million since 1992.

They can show how our Common Arc welder certification program saves money by eliminating redundant testing of welders. Common Arc involves over 6,600 welders and 170 participating contractors. The typical welder is certified for 10 contractors in two or more processes. At an average cost of $500 per test, that means a cost savings to the industry of $277 million since the program began.

But the most important part of marketing is performed by the Boilermaker craftsmen on the job every day. Programs help point the way, but programs don't show up on the job Ð Boilermakers do. To be successful in convincing owners who haven't used Boilermakers before to give us a try, we must convince them we are truly the elite craftsmen of industrial construction. And to make sure our contractors continue to get contracts from those owners we are already working for, we must be committed to providing good customer service.

Yes, customer service. We don't use that term very much, but we do have customers: the owners. And we give them a service: our work. The contractor signs the paycheck, but he gets that money from the owner. The owner can give a contract to anyone he likes. It is up to us to convince him that the service we provide is superior to the service he will get anywhere else.

Wilfred Connell, former vice-president for Illinois Power and a long-time supporter of the Boilermakers and M.O.S.T., recently gave me a book he thought might help me understand what owners are looking for from our craftsmen. That book explains the basics of providing good customer service.

This books points out that customer service begins with listening. On the International level, we began listening years ago, when we started our tripartite meetings to bring owners, contractors, and Boilermakers together. We listened to the owners as well as the contractors and came up with programs to solve our mutual problems.

Those programs - described above - are now in place, and they are producing the kinds of results owners like to hear about - reduced accidents and lower costs. We must continue to listen to all three groups - owners, contractors, and our members. Our craftsmen on the job must learn to listen as well.

Another important aspect of customer service is being willing to go the extra mile to succeed. Our customers must know we are willing to do what is necessary to bring the job in on time, within budget, and safely. The book calls it going the extra mile; I call it the Can-Do Spirit, and I see it in lodges throughout our Brotherhood. We must make sure the owners see it as well.

Perhaps the most important aspect of customer service is keeping promises. Our marketing program makes a lot of promises. We make these promises because we know that Boilermakers are the best-trained, most safety conscious, and most motivated craftsmen in industrial construction. We are a proud craft, and we take special pride in doing the job better than anyone else can.

But promises mean nothing unless our members deliver on those promises job after job after job. No amount of marketing can undo a bad job performance. Fortunately for the Boilermakers, satisfied customers return again and again, and they help us find new customers. We have plenty of satisfied customers, and we aim to get more.

So my thoughts as we enter 1998 are that plenty of opportunities are out there for us - in politics, in bargaining, and in expanding our customer base in the construction industry. I see opportunities as challenges, and I ask all Boilermakers to rise to these challenges.

Let's do what is necessary to get the job done in all of these areas.