Randy Palmateer

Randy Palmateer, business manager of the Northwestern Indiana Building and Construction Trades Council

Tony Martin, The Times

The Hoosier state is where we built the steel mills, oil refinery, casino boats and ports.

These are just some of the grand representations of our state’s dedication to the creation and construction of visionary projects.

Never would these projects have been successfully completed if not for our country’s most valuable assets: skilled craft construction workers.

Labor Day, for some, is simply the end of summer. For those of us who are in the building trades, it is an opportune time to highlight the important issues our industry faces.

Today’s working-class citizens have every right to doubt a government that has for so long seemed to forget about them and the elected officials who shun workers’ rights and well-being in favor of corporate interests.

The repeal of Indiana’s common construction wage and the right to work law are stark reminders.

Our nation faces obstacles in moving construction projects forward.

There are undoubtedly roadblocks in rebuilding our country’s crumbling public works. Yet we continuously see organized groups — even ones that claim to work on behalf of the interests of the middle class — determined to undermine community workforce agreements and resign construction craft professionals to a decline in inflation-adjusted wages, which have been sinking since the 1970s.

The Associated Builders and Contractors and the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, to name two, both have supported anti-worker laws.

But alongside these obstacles, there is promise.

For the past three years, the unionized construction trades nationally have been the only sector of the American labor movement to experience membership growth.

First and foremost, states from coast to coast must empower men and women from all walks of life to enter and succeed in pre-apprenticeship and formal apprenticeship training programs.

The apprenticeship training found in the unionized construction sector is the best in the world. It is one of the few things both sides of the political aisle can, and do, get behind.

Our privately funded apprenticeship training is earn-as-you-learn — meaning individuals are paid wages and receive benefits while they study a trade. They graduate debt-free, and in many cases, apprenticeship training leads to college credits, which creates a pathway to sustainable middle-class lifestyles for skilled construction workers and their families.

Another vital component to success are partnerships and formal alliances forged between lawmakers, municipalities, skilled trade unions and critical American industries, including oil, gas and chemical, power generation and steel.

Any plan failing to implement an aggressive and bipartisan approach to policy and execution will ultimately collapse.

The building trades’ bipartisan approach to politics — as evidenced by a recent vote in the U.S. House of Representatives where an anti-Davis-Bacon Act amendment was defeated resoundingly and with the support of almost 60 Republicans — has proven successful. A few years ago when common construction wage was repealed in Indiana, 25 Republicans stood with labor and voted with the Democrats.

Labor Day is a federal holiday where Americans come together to honor our workforce and our workers’ contributions to society.

When the middle class thrives, our state and country thrives.

Like all U.S. states, Indiana was built on the backs of blue-collar workers. If we fail to empower these hardworking men and women to succeed and enjoy good-paying jobs with benefits and standards, we have failed the American Dream.

It is time to push back against state and federal proposals that are detrimental to the economic interests of working-class Americans.

At the core of any deal that moves forward must be the concept of “workers first.” It is not about Democrat versus Republican, private versus public sector or even skilled worker versus management.

It’s possible for all stakeholders to succeed.

The American worker has long been an integral part of American life. They have been honored and immortalized time and again. It is now time to reinvest and commit again to supporting these men and women who built the United States into the country we know today.

Randy Palmateer is business manager for the Northwest Indiana Building & Construction Trades Council. The opinions are the writer's.

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