Convention sets pace for our future

Newton B. Jones, International President

Delegates make changes needed to meet challenges

DELEGATES TO THE 31st Consolidated Convention sent me a message this July. They told me that Boilermakers are willing to do whatever is necessary to keep this Brotherhood united and strong.

Delegates made some difficult decisions in Las Vegas — and there was considerable debate before they could reach a decision on some issues. But in the end they did what needed to be done. They gave your International union the tools we need to continue to serve you for the next five years.

And they did so without increasing per capita taxes.

Most of the problems facing the Brotherhood are financial in nature, the result of declining membership caused by manufacturing jobs moving offshore. While per capita dues revenue has been declining, the services provided by your International have not.

New DOL reporting requirements have added to accounting expenses and increased our need to provide training to local lodge secretary-treasurers. Our need to train International staff continues to grow as workplace laws and practices become increasingly complex. And our other obligations to our members do not decrease simply because dues revenues fall.

Prior to the convention, your International had already taken many steps to relieve the financial problems that were rapidly developing. Through a variety of measures, we have been able to reduce the annual expenditures of the International by over $5.5 million going forward. In fact, after nearly two full years in the red, the International’s consolidated funds are in the black by over $1.4 million in 2006.

We have turned the financial corner, but we are not out of the woods. Our manufacturing lodges still face NAFTA, CAFTA, and other trade agreements that make their existence tenuous. Although the Construction Division is looking at as many as 10 years of strong employment, that industry operates in cycles that cause significant fluctuations in dues revenue, even in good years.

Fortunately, convention delegates gave the International the tools to deal with these developments. Delegates adopted a provision to reduce expenditures by reducing the size of the International Executive Council through attrition, as council members retire, so that no one is forced from office. Cement and Railroad Division delegates supported changes to their divisional dues that should allow these divisions to operate in the black going forward. Delegates also provided for incremental dues adjustments when membership declines or increases, at the discretion of the Executive Council.

Perhaps the most difficult choice delegates had to make was to support the Law Committee’s report that eliminated out-of-work dues and set sick dues at the prevailing per capita rate. This measure was needed to ensure accurate membership counts and full funding of the Brotherhood’s activities through all four seasons of the year.

But it wasn’t an easy change to make. No one in that room wanted to place additional burdens on members who are already distressed. Delegates discussed this issue thoroughly. To ease the burden, the language change allows local lodges to pay per capita for sick members, and makes all retirees eligible for retired members' cards so they can maintain their connection to the union without paying monthly dues.

By taking this and many other steps, convention delegates enabled the International to continue to improve our high level of service to members and local lodges. Over the next few years, the International intends to unveil an expanded Web site that will eventually include online training for stewards, local lodge officers, and International staff, in conjunction with our classroom training programs.

We will be building a new International headquarters building to end the financial drain of maintaining a nearly 60-year-old building that no longer meets building code requirements. We look forward to expanding our organizing efforts, with greater emphasis on signing up the thousands of freeriders in right-to-work states and federal facilities — workers we must represent though they pay us no dues.

We will be able to continue our search for compatible merger partners, not from a position of financial weakness, but from one of financial strength. And I pleased to report that delegates voted not only to raise strike benefits, but also to start them on the first day of the strike, not the 15th. We must never forget those workers who, during lockouts and strikes, fight the hardest battle of all on our behalf, putting their livelihoods on the line to improve working conditions for all workers.

Our convention closed with a strong sense of unity and teamwork. Delegates who had argued their positions passionately were reconciled to the decision of the entire body. The representational democratic process requires compromise, but it also ensures that decisions made are what is best for the union as a whole, not just one industry, segment, or geographic area. Looking forward we can expect significant man-hour growth for our construction industry members over the next 10 years. Employment in the cement and shipbuilding industries appears to be stabilizing. While our boiler and forge shops and manufacturing lodges still struggle, there is even hope in those arenas, as many manufacturers feel pressure from their customers to keep jobs at home. And we will never give up our own pressure — on our employers and on the politicians that make the laws. We have a proud 125-year history of serving our members, of representing their interests at the bargaining table, in grievance proceedings, and in the political debate, and it will continue.

I am proud to have been elected to serve you for the next five years in our ongoing struggle for economic justice. Having seen how well our delegates conducted themselves in Las Vegas, I can assure all of you, just as I told the assembled delegation, that we will persevere, we will prosper, and we will succeed — because we are Boilermakers.