The COVID-19 pandemic has placed unprecedented challenges on workers, particularly for essential workers on construction sites, hospitals and other potentially dangerous settings.
Sean McGarvey, President of North America’s Building Trades Unions (NABTU), joined the America’s Work Force Union Podcast to discuss how the pandemic has transformed labor in America.
McGarvey also discussed the need to grow union apprenticeships and why he is seeing more people with college degrees seek professions in the building trades.
Essential workers kept America running
The pandemic forced workers to retool and restrategize how they work. Much of the leadership has come from unions given the lack of federal leadership from the previous administration, McGarvey said
During last month’s UA convention, McGarvey personally thanked all 4,000 delegates for their work throughout the pandemic. When the country was hunkered down and unsure of what would happen, it was essential workers who kept the water systems running, built temporary hospitals and morgues and kept oxygen supplied to every ventilator in America, he said.
Infrastructure bill would be a great investment in the middle class
It is now up to the Biden Administration to take the country to the next level. McGarvey pointed to the American Rescue Plan as the most significant piece of legislation for poor and working class families in his lifetime. It is a big difference to make promises on the campaign trail and then to actually follow through on a plan, he said. He commended the President for backing up his campaign ideas with real political action during his first term.
McGarvey said the $1 trillion infrastructure bill would put the country on the right course, if passed. With $550 billion in new spending, as well as $400 billion of existing statute programs, the bill would give the country plenty of breathing room.
It is encouraging that language for Prevailing Wage was included in the bill. Even if the labor does not end up being 100 percent union, union contractors can compete for the work, McGarvey added.
Apprenticeships create clear pathways to a middle class lifestyle
McGarvey also discussed NABTU’s Apprenticeship Readiness programs. They have grown from 15 apprenticeship programs 18 years ago to over 200 programs today. These apprenticeship programs create pathways to the middle class, he said.
While many high school guidance counselors used to push college as the ideal destination for high school graduates, more are now embracing the trades. The number of people entering the trades with college degrees is stunning, he said. People are learning one can go into the trades and earn $100,000 a year to become a pipefitter or welder, he added.