Monday, September 27, 2010

Labor's Day Not Lost

Mr. John Bernard, President and CEO of the Associated Builders & Contractors of Southeast Texas celebrated Labor Day by publishing an arrogant, self-centered diatribe in both the Port Arthur News and Beaumont Enterprise which took aim at organized labor and working people.

Among other things, Mr. Bernard whined about having workers forced on contractors by demographics (requirement to hire local workers).  It appears Mr. Bernard has forgotten that the taxpayers of Port Arthur and Jefferson County have paid a dear price for being able to ask that contractors in the big refinery expansions employ local folks.  They did so in the form of tax abatements to the tune of several millions of dollars.  These tax abatements were given based on the promise made by the companies that not only the companies but their contractors would try and maximize the number of local people employed in the various projects. 

Mr. Bernard continues to follow the corporate-republican line that unemployment is being caused by unreasonable regulations and high tax rates.  Specifically, Mr. Bernard pointed out the current debate in Congress on whether or not to allow the Bush tax cuts on rich folks to expire at the end of the year. The republican line is that most of these tax cuts benefit the poor and the middle-class mom and pop small businesses.  The fact of the matter is that over half of these tax benefits go to people making over 7 million dollars a year.

I guess Mr. Bernard has a short memory in that he fails to recall these same rich folks were making record millions of dollars, doing better than they had ever done in the history of the United States.  This occurred under Bill Clinton’s presidency when the tax rates were the same as they will be if the Bush tax cuts expire.

I suppose Mr. Bernard would like to go back to the days when there was no OSHA to demand safe workplaces for workers, or when the construction industry in Texas led the nation in industrial deaths.  As for ‘cap and trade’, which he condemned so vigorously, I note that he had no suggestion about how to stop global warming and seemed to care very little about whether or not the general public is exposed to disease-carrying industrial pollution.

Unfortunately for Mr. Bernard, I remember the days when thousands of workers were sentenced to death by their employers who made them work while being exposed to asbestos.  I personally handled cases where the employer misled the employees into believing their lung problems were caused by tuberculosis or some other disease.  It was only through vigorous pursuit of the issue by lawyers that the world discovered what industry had known for years--that asbestos caused cancer and other deadly lung diseases.  

Somehow I am very leery of leaving the safety of the public and construction workers to the whim of Mr Bernard’s organization or members.

Although contractors promised local government they would do their very best to employ local workers, the motels around Port Arthur are full of workers from other states and other countries.  While boasting of cooperative programs between contractors and unions to create skilled workers in the area, too many skilled workers are sitting idle today because most of the contractors working in the area now prefer to work non-union labor.

Maybe Mr. Bernard and the members of his organization should take another look at this if he really cares about Southeast Texas.  When most of these big jobs are done, too many of the workers Mr. Bernard has hired will return to Mexico, Mississippi, Alabama, or elsewhere, while our union guys generally own homes here, raise their families here, and spend their hard earned money in this area.

For the most part, Mr. Bernard took aim at labor on Labor Day and shot himself in the foot. The only point on which we agree is the hope that next Labor Day construction workers will have more reason to celebrate.


Text of the column which appeared in the Beaumont Enterprise is provided below:

Monday, September 6, 2010
Section: Opinions
Page: A8

Byline: John Bernard

Type: Guest Column

Area needs strong companies to provide jobs

   While Labor Day is recognized as a time to celebrate the American worker, this year's holiday has taken on a more somber tone, especially for those in construction. 

    The unemployment rate for the construction industry is nearly twice the national average, and more than 1.75 million construction workers are out of a job. The drilling moratorium and looming cap and trade legislation would hamper our industry even more! 

    We are blessed in Southeast Texas to have a thriving petrochemical business that has helped us get through the down-turn many other areas have experienced. Locally, there is still a lot to be done in getting local craftspersons employed. 

    Notice I did not say "workers." In order for us to get our locals into these jobs they need to be trained and exceptionally safe. Our local construction companies are feeling the weight of increased competition from outside contractors and legislation. 

    What most people don't understand is that projects in our industry are bid "hard money," that means there is no room for error. 

    The contractor has to come in under schedule, under budget and do it with no injuries. In order to do that, they need highly trained workers who have the skills, not "workers" who have been forced on them by an entity just because of demographics. 

    We are not doing our local workforce any justice if we don't raise the bar where they can compete with out-of-town construction workers. 

    Living here doesn't guarantee you a job if you can't perform the task without someone standing over you instructing you on every little detail, not to mention the safety risks to the individual and co-workers. 

    There is not one good reason why a local person is not working in our industry. Between the ABC Construction Training Center, the Lamar Institute of Technology and the local union apprenticeship programs, qualified craftspersons shouldn't be an issue. 

    Our local small businesses and contractors are the catalyst for creating jobs and economic recovery, yet today's construction contractors face a dizzying array of obstacles, including burdensome and costly federal regulations and mandates along with high tax rates. 

    Tax rates could shoot up even higher if Congress fails to extend the 2001 and 2003 tax relief measures, the estate tax and the capital gains tax--leading to one of the largest tax increases in U. S. history. In addition, out-of-control federal government spending has ballooned our national debt to $13.3 trillion -more than $40,000 for every man, woman and child in the United States. 

    In order to break out of this dire situation, our national ABC office has developed a 2010 Job Creation Proposal that will help stimulate the construction industry and put Americans back to work. The proposal includes a wide-ranging package of recommendations, including providing tax relief to small businesses, such as construction contractors, as well as to families and individuals; increasing access to capital; allowing the entire construction workforce to participate in federally funded projects; and enacting a comprehensive national energy plan. 

    The nation is facing unprecedented economic challenges, and both large and small construction contractors are eager to take the lead in stimulating economic growth by getting back to building America. Implementation of ABC's recommendations will help jump-start the construction industry during this economic downturn. 

    Let's hope that next Labor Day construction workers will have more reasons to celebrate. 

John Bernard is president and CEO of Associated Builders and Contractors of Southeast Texas.

No comments:

Post a Comment

All comments are reviewed and it may take a little bit before your comment is published. Anonymous contributions take a lot longer and may perish for lack of attention.