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M.O.R.E. Work program success dominates CSO conference

If we can break through this issue of coal vs CCUS we could save many, many jobs and create more.

Cory Channon, International Director of Climate Change Policy Solutions

International President Newton B. Jones says environmentalists “leave it in the ground” doesn’t ring true when battery components come from the ground. 

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Construction Sector lodge leaders met in person for the first time since 2020 at the Construction Sector Operations Conference in Marco Island, Florida Feb. 28 to March 3. The COVID-19 pandemic paused in-person gatherings; and, as International President Newton B. Jones said at the opening of the conference, it was time to gather again to discuss the impacts of a rapidly changing world.

“We’re again in a state of transition in this union,” IP Jones said as he opened the conference. “When we were in railroads, it opened up the entire country to development and progress. Then when that went away, we subsisted on power generation and shipbuilding.”

Power generation is growing more distant for the Construction Sector because the environmentalists have the ear of politicians. “And they say, ‘keep coal in the ground.’ They want the world to become something that comes from batteries. Where do batteries come from? Cobalt, nickel, cadmium—all those rare earth elements that make a battery come from the ground. So, the argument they make about keeping coal in the ground is a hollow one.”

The push for renewables has affected Boilermaker man-hours, making the need to expand work opportunities imperative. To that end, IP Jones created the M.O.R.E. Work Investment Fund to aid Boilermaker contractors in becoming more competitive.

“We’re talking about the recovery agreement and are asking contractors to take a look and go after jobs we haven’t been doing,” IP Jones said.

One of the ways that the M.O.R.E. Work Investment Fund has helped gain man-hours for union members is through statehouse legislation. “The whole topic of legislative work – it’s extremely important for us to be involved,” IP Jones said. “It’s important for our business managers to assist. We’re making progress with your help.”

And the progress is impressive. National Coordinator of State Legislative Affairs Martin Williams Jr. outlined past legislative wins from California, Washington and New Jersey with ongoing initiatives in Illinois, Delaware, Virginia, Minnesota and Arizona.

Skilled workforce legislation defines certain industrial facilities as high hazard and establishes minimum requirements for safety. While legislation varies from state to state, Boilermakers want to see facility owners using a trained union workforce, earning prevailing wage backed with state enforcement. This not only increases man-hours but ensures a much safer working environment.

Williams also gave an overview of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, or RGGI, established to lower carbon emissions in the power generation sector. The Boilermakers are against Pennsylvania’s participation mainly due to the lack of expected environmental and economic benefit. He also discussed the union’s work in advancing carbon capture and hydrogen.

The M.O.R.E. Work Investment Fund Job Targeting strategy has been a success, according to CSO Executive Director Tim Simmons. He outlined how the union is expanding man-hours and helping Boilermaker contractors bid more work. But challenges are many, with the biggest being the war on all fossil fuels. In October of 2020, Duke Energy proposed accelerating the amount of coal plants it plans to retire, adding to the 50 coal units already retired since 2010. Tucson Electric Power said it will end the use of coal to generate electricity by 2032. And that’s just two examples out of many across the United States.

“I’m still wondering how they plan to generate energy with all these plant closures,” Simmons said.

And with upheaval in the energy sector, the M.O.R.E. Work program has expanded not only man-hours but also the union’s scope of work. Contractors are bidding for work in paper mills, steel production facilities, mining operations, chemical plants, agricultural processing plants and refineries on everything from power boilers to tanks. This helps the union become less reliant on industries that are under constant political attack.

The M.O.R.E. Work Job Targeting strategy has produced over $44 million from an investment of $3 million. The return on investment shows over a 1000% increase overall, with an investment gain of more than $41 million in less than three years. Earning over 716,069 man-hours, at an average cost of $6.13 per man-hour, shows the success of a program that’s just beginning. Simmons said there is a lot of Boilermaker work out there still unclaimed and the union is going after it.

He also detailed changes to the Boilermaker Delivery System that added greater flexibility for dispatchers, business managers and agents, along with referral rules updates and an open discussion for lodge leaders on M.O.R.E. Work program initiatives.

International Director of Climate Change Policy Solutions Cory Channon informed lodge leaders about the political landscape of carbon capture and hydrogen.

“President Jones has the ear of the government in Canada,” Channon said. “If we can break through this issue of coal vs CCUS we could save many, many jobs and create more.”

He said carbon capture works, but it’s not yet feasible because of the expense. The same goes for hydrogen. And high cost isn’t the only obstacle. Environmentalists have created a narrative that all fossil fuels are bad. He said now it’s time to create a new narrative, one of solutions.

“By the year 2030, you’ll see the rapid development of carbon capture. We have solutions and they’re proven.”

To get there, Boilermakers must be engaged in shifting the conversation about a balanced, clean energy future. “It’s going to take effort and collaboration. We need more people engaged in this.”

Rick Gerasta, senior vice president of Segal Consulting, gave an update on the National Pension Trust, noting the changes made to ensure the health of the pension have worked. And the union must stay the course for its continued health.

IVP-NE John Fultz highlighted the excellent management of the Boilermaker National Funds. “Since 2013, the BNF team has saved $985 million for our Boilermakers family by performing audits, monitoring our business partners and negotiating business partner contracts,” Fultz said. In addition, there have been no rate increases for the last 12 years.

Director of Jurisdictional Services Marty Stanton talked about the three main agreements and gave an overview of jurisdictional disputes. And Marketing Manager Johnny Baca discussed recruitment initiatives and the new Spark Store where lodge leaders can order materials from brochures to booths.

BNAP Coordinator Mark Wertz discussed the National Apprenticeship Program highlighting the National Training Conference coming in May and the updated learning management system for apprentices. Course updates include drug and alcohol awareness, all math courses, financial literacy, apprentice and instructor resources and EEO anti-harassment training.

Director of National Training Services Jeff Hughes brought lodge leaders up to date on the successful boot camp program, held at local lodges across the U.S. The current weld test pass rate at the boot camps is at nearly 96%. Hughes praised boot camp instructors for their dedication.

Director of Government Affairs Cecile Conroy discussed the Biden Administration energy policy. She said hydrogen has buzz among lawmakers; however, hydrogen becoming the “next fuel” is still a long way off. Communications Director Amy Wiser gave an overview of marketing initiatives and showed a new commercial, available for local lodges. She also gave an update on the Boilermaker app with CSO-specific updates coming soon. National Coordinator of Women’s Initiatives Erica Stewart gave an update on a new film on women Boilermakers.

Lodge leaders also heard from Bank of Labor President Bob McCall, Market President of the BOL Labor Division Mike Snowden, Boilermaker History Preservation Department Director Dave Stewart and Ullico President and CEO Ed Smith.