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CSO tackles recruiting and emerging technologies

I really want to emphasize we’re partners. What we do together really is special. We play beyond our weight, and with the help of labor we feel we have a good voice across the country.

José Dominguez, Vice President of PBF Energy

Recruiting and technologies are top of mind for 2024 CSO attendees.

Construction sector lodge leaders and members of the National Association of Construction Boilermaker Employers met in Marco Island, Florida, for the annual Construction Sector Operations Conference Feb. 24-29. Under a banner with the theme “Better Together,” the conference highlighted the essential relationship between the Boilermakers and NACBE contractors. Session speakers offered deep dives into existing and emerging technologies, organizing and recruiting, and updates from across the union.

International President Warren Fairley opened the conference, first addressing the relationship between Boilermakers, contractors and owners.

“We want to prove to you, our contractors and owners, that we can come together, we can work, and we can do our best for both the industry, our members and your organizations,” Fairley said.

He quoted the proverb: If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.

"That’s NACBE,” Fairley said. “For too many years it has been the neglected part of this organization. NACBE should get a little more credit than they do. Simply put, we’re better together.”

Fairley said that union leadership is abiding by the principle of only acting on things that improve the lives of rank-and-file members. If something doesn’t serve the membership, it won’t happen. He also stressed the need for organizing and recruiting.

“And as important as organizing is, that’s not the only way to add members to our union,” he said, noting there are a lot of smaller, independent unions that aren’t associated with a national union. “Organizing was neglected far too long in this organization. That ended in August, and the IEC has done nothing but support this.”


Existing and emerging technologies

Vice President of PBF Energy José Dominguez gave an overview of refining, PBF Energy’s story and working together with the Boilermakers.

PBF Energy is a downstream, independent, domestic merchant refiner with subsidiaries owning and operating six highly complex refineries. Dominguez said that PBF Energy acquired small-to-medium refineries that were unattractive to large corporations.

“The mighty PBF. We took over refineries the big ones didn’t want,” he said. “We have a very strong company now with 3,700 employees and a million barrels a day.”

They also have a very strong relationship with the union building trades. Torrance was the first refinery to contract with 100% building trades’ workers and a project labor agreement effectively implemented through California’s SB 54. PBF is a friend to labor as they’ve testified in support of skilled workforce legislation in Ohio. They’re also working with building trades in the Gulf of Mexico to increase a union presence in refining.

“I really want to emphasize we’re partners,” he said. “What we do together really is special. We play beyond our weight with the help of labor. We feel we have a good voice across the country.”

IR Chris O’Neill offered a comprehensive look into the emergence of hydrogen and its jurisdiction, while Director of Government Affairs Cecile Conroy shared an overview of the U.S. government’s hydrogen tax credits.

O’Neill said there’s huge investment being put into utilizing hydrogen as a fuel source for transportation and for electric grid infrastructure. Hydrogen can be used in a variety of sectors including cement, chemical plants, refineries and renewables. And there are Boilermaker man-hours in all the industries where members currently work.

“What does this change mean for the Boilermakers? I see change as an opportunity,” O’Neill said. “We need to get ahead of it this time. Natural gas was a boon for some, but we missed it.” 

He said the equipment that’s going to be installed for hydrogen production is no different from what Boilermakers currently use. “Our jurisdiction needs to be protected,” he said.

Conroy said both the U.S. and Canada have introduced tax credits for hydrogen but in the U.S., there are some governmental tangles around specifications on those credits. She said they need to be further defined, especially now that the Department of Energy picked seven clean hydrogen hubs last fall.

IR Jonathan White gave a deep dive into the rise of small modular reactors across Canada. They’re poised to grow to a $150 billion industry by 2050. SMRs are small in size and capacity, which allows units to be added when there’s a need for increased electricity, process heat or process steam. White said SMRs are versatile, providing applications for remote sites. And they’re shop-assembled, allowing for higher quality control.

Up to now, there’s been no North American grid-sized development of SMRs but that’s changing. Ontario Power Generation is building the future home of the first grid-scale SMR on an existing nuclear site in Darlington, on the north shore of Lake Ontario in Clarington, Ontario.

Local 128 (Toronto, Ontario) forecasts nuclear work over the next three years to total 2.5 million man-hours, 55% of all the work that L-128 will see over the next three years.

“All that work is performed union,” White said.


Updates from Across the Union

CSO Executive Director Marty Stanton gave a rundown on CSO employees that support CSO members and acknowledged the work that went into preparing for the annual CSO conference. He also discussed the CSO database—a one stop shop for everything a business manager might need including bylaws, referral rules, the jurisdiction database and contracts.

Stanton mentioned a new energy initiative with IR Chris O’Neill and consultant Mike Murphy. It’s an initiative to get involved in the newer technologies on the horizon such as hydrogen and SMRs.

IVP-Canada Arnie Stadnick shared lodge-by-lodge information on man-hour forecasts, noting most of Canada is at full employment.

“Our primary focus is on recruitment,” Stadnick said. “We can, and we try to, supply the demand. Here’s an opportunity for the American brothers and sisters to come north, and some in Canada may want to come south.”

He said Boilermakers continue to lobby the government on pension matters. And now they have a friend of government to help, Monte McNaughton, the previous minister of labor.

“Before he resigned, he was active in unions and a friend of Boilermakers,” he said, noting past IVP-Canada Joe Maloney started the relationship with McNaughton and others have embraced it. 

“Monte has agreed to sit on our pension committee. He’s very influential as a former labor minister.”

MOST Administrator Mark Garrett gave an update on training and safety numbers including drug testing, OSHA, steel erection, scaffolding and supplemental rigging. He said the new mental health program has been well-received among contractors and owners. MOST is also looking at training programs on the local level on how to identify mental health issues.

Jason McInnis, Director of Health and Safety Canada also raised the issue of mental health and occupational health and their importance in the workplace. The goal with both is to improve Boilermakers’ long-term health, well-being and quality of life.

“Stigma is the number one reason why people don’t get help,” McInnis said. “We need to end the stigma. Know the numbers to call. Plaster them in your lodge, bathrooms and jobsites.”

Canadian Director of National Training j’Amey Bevan gave an overview of training in Canada, noting that training center coordinators meet quarterly to share information across training centers.

“We really have a phenomenal collection of training coordinators.”

She said in Canada, they’ve focused on fostering the next generations through project management and field supervisor training, which helps new journey people know what they’ll face in a supervisor role. They’re also focused on apprentice training, with 86% of apprentices in Canada completing their apprenticeship program. Canada has recognized its top graduates since 1994 and is bringing back the national apprenticeship competition.

BNAP Coordinator Mark Wertz announced the National Instructor Conference and shared updates to training, including EPRI. The Learning Management System is continually being updated. BNAP is working on version 3.0, adding new training materials including financial literacy, operating a forklift, AutoCAD, aerial platform operation and clean energy. They’re also removing outdated and repetitive content.

Marketing Manager Johnny Baca talked about strategic planning and the importance of data, especially involving growing the union. He said the union has lost 35,000 members since 2002 and that now is the time for strategic planning. That involves making goals and creating concrete steps to achieve those goals.

“Don’t make the mistake of thinking your union will grow without thoughtful strategic planning; it won’t,” he said. “Growth will never occur by accident.”

National Coordinator of State Legislative Affairs Martin Williams brought lodge leaders up to date on happenings across U.S. statehouses and efforts to pass safety and apprenticeship requirements for refineries, ethanol and chemical plants.

The thorn in the side of the Northeast, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, is slow walking through the courts to its hopeful end. RGGI is a multistate compact of Northeast and mid-Atlantic states established to lower carbon emissions in the power generation sector. Boilermakers and others argued that RGGI lacked environmental or economic benefit. Litigation against RGGI was filed in April of 2022, with a preliminary injunction issued in November against RGGI. Williams said Boilermakers rejoiced for a hot minute before Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro appealed the decision to the State Supreme Court.

General Counsel David Rosenfeld talked organizing and recruiting, and the law. He taught extensively on 9 (a) status in the construction industry and why unions should establish section 9 (a) status over 8 (f) in agreements. In essence, 9 (a) in contracts bars an employer from hiring another union or the nonunion, but 8 (f) doesn’t. Under 8 (f) there is no duty to bargain with a successor. An employer can make union workers leave a job site and then hire nonunion or a different union.

Daniel Hogan, Impartial Secretary and CEO of National Maintenance Agreements Policy Committee looked at future opportunities for the industry.

“We would not be here today if we did not know how to roll with the punches,” Hogan said.

He said with 110 megaprojects that broke ground in 2023, and over $1 billion in investments, the future looks bright. And 2024 is adding to number, bringing it to 144 megaprojects. These include microchips, semiconductors, batteries, refining and energy generation.

“Nearly every state in the union will have construction projects,” he said.

There’s a trend in reshoring manufacturing as well and no shortage of work opportunities. But to meet the opportunities, the union needs members.

“It is everyone’s responsibility in their room to find their replacement,” Hogan said. “Be a mentor. We must open our doors to future brothers and sisters.”