Construction jobs get bipartisan support at Capitol rally

(Article reprinted from the Union Advocate) State lawmakers from both parties touted their proposals to put union tradespeople to work during an April 10 rally on the Capitol steps, organized by the Minnesota State Building and Construction Trades Council. The rally capped the council’s annual lobbying day, which saw Carpenters, Laborers, Operating Engineers and other union tradespeople meeting with their elected officials and urging support for jobs-creating investments, including Gov. Mark Dayton’s proposed $1.5 billion public works bill.

The governor’s bonding proposal would put an estimated 22,950 people to work on more than 200 projects statewide, investing in public colleges and universities, housing, water-treatment facilities and more.

But Dayton warned tradespeople that opponents will try to scale back his jobs bill.

“They’re going to try to pare it back,” he said. “They’re going to pick a number … and say we can’t go above that. They’re going to leave jobs on the table. So ask them to justify why a number is more important than putting people to work.”

Building Trades unions rally on the Capitol steps, with semi trailers from Laborers Local 563 and Operating Engineers Local 49 serving as a backdrop.

While Dayton and other DFLers called for investments in infrastructure and transportation, Republican leaders remained mostly silent on those issues. Instead, they offered support for legislation that would shift jobs-creating projects in the private sector, stalled over environmental concerns, out of neutral.

House Speaker Kurt Daudt and Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka pledged to send the governor a bill approving Enbridge’s Line 3 oil pipeline and another that would ease environmental hurdles faced by mining companies on the state’s Iron Range.

“My hope is that this is bipartisan,” Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, a Republican from Nisswa, said. “At the end of the day, frankly, for Minnesota to be successful, Republicans and Democrats have got to figure out a way to work together, focus on the things that everybody benefits from. If we do that, we all win.”

Although most lawmakers talked jobs, Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, a carpenter from Cook, held up his union card and urged tradespeople to stay vigilant against attacks on their wages and collective bargaining rights.

“You don’t have to look too far … to see what happened in Wisconsin when labor got a little complacent,” Bakk said, pointing to Republican-backed legislation that eliminated prevailing wage and project labor agreements in the state, as well as a “right-to-work” law that weakened unions’ bargaining power. “We’ve got to keep the heat on, keep building relationships with those people who represent us.”