Members of Minnesota Building Trades unions are celebrating their leadership role in creating good-paying construction jobs, while conscious of the political realities that could threaten that success.
The unions gathered Thursday and Friday for the 71st annual convention of the Minnesota State Building & Construction Trades Council. The event is being held at the Treasure Island Casino in Welsh, Minn., one of many sites that uses union labor.
While neighboring states such as Wisconsin have seen opportunities decline for Building Trades workers, Minnesota has maintained a relatively high level of employment. Apprenticeship and training programs are booming and many people have found work on high-profile projects such as the U.S. Bank stadium in Minneapolis and the soon-to-open St. Croix Crossing bridge.
As a result, Minnesota Building Trades unions – which represent 50,000 workers with skills ranging from carpentry and painting to crane operation, pile driving and sheet metal work – have become national leaders in the organized construction industry.
“We are well respected by national leadership and our contracting partners,” noted Council President Harry Melander in his opening remarks to the convention. The Minnesota Building Trades “continue to be the world-class provider of skilled workers and the hub of practical leadership within the labor community.”
The reason, he said, is the unusual level of solidarity among the Building Trades in Minnesota.
“The reasons we’ve been able to have safe workplaces, eight-hour work days, strong prevailing wage language and no Right to Work is because we as a Building Trades Council have stayed together.”
That unity may be tested in the 2018 elections, when Minnesotans elect a governor to replace DFLer Mark Dayton, who is retiring, and members of the Minnesota House and U.S. Congressional delegation.
“The most important position we have is electing a supportive governor for Building Trades members and their families,” Melander said.
Several people who have declared their candidacy for governor or are considered potential candidates were scheduled to address the convention.
In addition, delegates heard from Dayton and Republican legislative leaders. The elected officials continued their sparring over the outcome of the 2017 legislative session.
Dayton touted the state’s economic success, noting, “Last month, for the first time ever, Minnesota had over 3 million jobs … So many businesses have been expanding, building and investing in Minnesota.”
That growth, he said, is threatened by the Republican tax bill that lowered rates for the wealthiest Minnesotans and “will put the state on the brink of disaster.”
House Speaker Kurt Daudt, a Republican, disputed Dayton’s characterization and talked about major bills that passed to fund transportation and infrastructure.
“Making sure your members are working is my absolute No. 1 priority,” he told delegates.
Also at the convention, delegates considered a number of policy resolutions and conducted elections. Re-elected to their positions were Harry Melander, president; Craig Olson, secretary-treasurer; and trustees Glen Johnson, Mike Syversrud and Shane Meier.