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MOST NTA kicks off with change, new initiative

“Our destination is the future. Being overly focused on the past sometimes hinders what we want to do tomorrow.”

Warren Fairley, International President

International President Warren Fairley talks openly about the union’s change in leadership.

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The 36th MOST National Tripartite Alliance conference, held Aug. 21-24 in Destin, Florida, opened with what several attendees described as a refreshing focus on transparency and progress as the Boilermakers embrace change and new leadership.

“Since its inception in 1989, MOST has partnered with the owners, contractors and the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers. Everyone here knows the power of partnership,” said MOST Administrator Mark Garrett as he welcomed attendees.

Newly elected International President Warren Fairley talked openly about changes to the union after the successful ouster of Newton Jones from his position as international president following the discovery of misuse of union funds.

“I’m not able to ignore the elephant in the room, and as we gather here this morning, I’m going to be direct,” Fairley said.

He detailed events that led IVP-NE John Fultz to file disciplinary charges against Jones, resulting in an International Executive Council hearing June 2 that removed Jones and revoked his membership, among other disciplinary actions. Jones ignored the decision and filed a federal injunction against International Vice Presidents J. Tom Baca, Arnie Stadnick and Tim Simmons, who voted in favor of Jones’ discipline. On Aug. 15, the federal judge hearing the case, Eric F. Melgren, issued a summary judgment decision in favor of the IVPs’ actions.

“The federal judge was incredible. He took the time to understand what our Constitution said and made a plain interpretation,” Fairley said. “He ruled in accordance with our Constitution and upheld the Article 17 charges against Newton Jones. Tom Baca, John Fultz, Arnie Stadnick and Tim Simmons put their reputations and their livelihoods on the line with no clear path to victory,” he said.

Fairley said he enjoyed his retirement for a brief few weeks before the IVP’s called him to consider serving as the next international president. He said he welcomed the responsibility he was undertaking.

He outlined immediate changes for the Boilermakers union including restoring the IVPs’ constitutional authority as a governing body, with the IEC making future decisions together.

“We are guided by one question: Is what I’m about to do going to make the life of a rank-and-file Boilermaker better? If the answer is yes, we’re going to do it. If it’s no, we’re not going to spend one dime on it,” he said.

And going forward, Fairley said the union will remember the past but not focus on it. “Our destination is the future. Being overly focused on the past sometimes hinders what we want to do tomorrow.”

Fairley also announced a new initiative, a mental health program for construction sector Boilermakers.

“Yesterday the MOST Trustees agreed to adopt a mental health program,” he said, noting the prevalence of depression and suicide among workers in the construction industry. “We’re not asking anyone to be a counselor, but we want to equip them to know how to help a member get the help they need.”

Boilermakers in Canada already have a successful mental wellness program, and plans are for MOST to work with them to set up a similar program in the United States.

Guest speakers continued the emphasis on much-needed change, manpower and safety. Babcock & Wilcox Construction General Manager Ed McWhorter discussed rapid evolution in the industry and the need to move toward innovation and change.

“It’s very evident we need to embrace change,” McWhorter said, noting that organizations can become trapped by past success and get stuck in organizational complacency. He reminded attendees that “we’re not too big or too great to fail.”

McWhorter suggested creating uniform best practices, including the union operating as one cohesive unit across sectors. He suggested standardized training across all regions to ensure universal understanding and replication—and not only for apprentices but all workers. Making criteria for approval of M.O.R.E. Work Investment Funds understandable from region to region, he said, would give contractors greater knowledge of how to achieve success when applying for M.O.R.E. Work program funds.

“The road to change is going to be a difficult, awkward set of events. But remember to think differently, act swiftly and embrace change as we move forward together. Don’t let our egos get in the way.”

TVA’s Director of Labor Relations Will Trumm outlined the next 30 years at the Tennessee Valley Authority and the urgent need for more Boilermakers. He said for the first time in TVA’s history, they’re having to pause work because there aren't enough people to build.

“For 85 years, not a turbine has run, not a facility has run without the Boilermakers’ skilled craft laying their hands on it to ensure reliable, resilient power across the Tennessee Valley,” he said. “And we are very proud inside TVA that we have the best Boilermaker partnerships that exist.”

Will Trumm, TVA Director of Labor Relations

Trumm said that TVA is dependent on the union’s skills to recruit and train highly skilled people to come and perform the work. “We have a big problem right now. And that big problem creates opportunity,” he said, noting this is the time to embrace the call to action to recruit and train more Boilermakers.

“We’re all aware of the challenge [of finding people],” Trumm said.

Concerning Boilermaker labor demand, TVA is doing a lot of work right now to  solve the challenges before them.

“We’re looking for solutions and not sitting around waiting,” Trumm said. “We have got to provide opportunities to get people into the middle class. Today, it is time to grow the Boilermakers union and capitalize on this moment. And the moment is here today.”

Ron Traxler, Executive Director of the National Association of Construction Boilermaker Employees, delved into safety and the need to reduce injuries even further.

“Safety isn’t just a word, it’s a commitment,” he said. “It’s a promise we make to ourselves, to our families…and we make to one another. It’s about being in an environment where everyone feels secure both physically and mentally.”

He announced injury rates so far this year from the 31 participating NACBE contractors, with lost time injuries at zero and compensable injuries at 1.16.

“Working together, we’ve lowered those numbers,” Traxler said. “We’d like to see them at zero, of course, but those are pretty good numbers.”

Caucuses were held Monday with separate sessions for Boilermakers, owners and contractors. Executive Director of Construction Sector Operations Marty Stanton highlighted selected issues that emerged from the Boilermakers’ caucus.  

With the M.O.R.E. Work Investment Fund, Boilermakers would like contractors to bid more jobs and give the locals more time to file paperwork and request funds before a job is to commence. He acknowledged that sometimes contractors don’t have time, “but if we can, we’d like a longer lead time.”

Owner Caucus Chairman Bob Carroll, Director of Projects for Suncoke Energy, spoke for the owners.

“As an owner, I’ve seen a great improvement in safety,” he said. “The desire to remove hazards is really what drives safety.”

He said a few years ago there was an issue with quality. “That’s really, greatly improved since COVID. The rejection rates have really been lowered.”

Concerning manpower, inter-trade agreements will help meet the needs of owners because, he said, it’s hard to accomplish anything if you don’t have enough workers.

Contractor Chairman Mike Bray reported for the contractors' caucus. He said the contractors talked about some of the same issues raised by the union and owners’ caucus.

“Today we’re here for positive solutions,” he said. “The contractors are totally enthused with the new leadership.”

Bray said contractors would like to see THC removed from MOST drug testing, but exceptions will be made for owners that need the testing. Also, he noted, curbing absenteeism and educating apprentices on best safety practices is essential.

National Boilermaker Apprenticeship Program Coordinator Mark Wertz gave an update on Boilermaker’s training, grant money and recruiting efforts, and he announced a new update to BNAP’s learning management system.  

Garrett gave an update on training and testing during the 2022 year for the Boilermaker Code and additional MOST programs, including OSHA, rigging, project management and field leadership.

Martin Williams, National Coordinator of State Legislative Initiatives, M.O.R.E. Work Investment Fund, offered good news in his legislative update and the potential for Boilermaker job opportunities. He noted the successes of past state initiatives and the most recent legislative win, Minnesota SF 10.

Marketing Manager Johnny Baca said Boilermaker membership peaked at 80,000 in 2001-2002—today, there are just 46,000 members. Recruiting, he said, is critical.

Director of Communications Amy Wiser showed how local lodges are using M.O.R.E. Work Investment Funds to increase awareness of Boilermakers as the elite craft, to generate leads to increase recruiting and organizing efforts and grow work opportunities.