People find their place in the labor movement for a number of reasons. Whether it is seeing their family struggle in their youth, seeking solidarity with other workers, a dedication to training and many other reason. Whatever the reason may be, the labor movement has shaped many workers into who they are today.
International Union of Operating Engineers Local 49 Business Manager and Financial Secretary Jason George discussed his path into the labor movement, the work members of IUOE Local 49 are doing and the future of the energy industry in the U.S. on AWF Union Podcast.
Finding a place in the labor movement
George explained his upbringing and being raised by a single mother. She worked tirelessly in order to be a provider and helped shape George into the man and labor leader he is today. However, it was his labor-leader uncle who inspired him to get involved in organized labor.
Now as Business Manager and Financial Secretary, George oversees a union that represents 14,400 members, one of the largest Local Unions in the nation. The Local 49 organizing strategy is unique, with members including building trades workers, public employees and shop workers.
The Local achieved such a large membership by speaking directly to private businesses. Their benefits package is friendly to businesses and workers alike. The convenience is attractive to business owners and keeps them from fighting the union.
Working through a pandemic
George said Local 49 membership overwhelmingly voiced their want to work, even early in the pandemic. This led George and his staff to lobby the Governor on their behalf, who ultimately deemed them essential workers. Their main source of work came from infrastructure projects. Money from a state funding bill began being spent and the Local 49 members were able to stay busy.
Members managed to follow all safety protocols and avoided any major outbreaks on the job. However, George said some members unfortunately tested positive for COVID-19.
Minnesota energy industry jobs
Wind and solar energy are making a charge in the U.S., but especially in places like Minnesota and the Dakota’s. George said these jobs desperately need to be union.
Although some of the Local 49 members do work on pipelines, they understand that the future includes renewable energy sources. George ended by saying these jobs will need to be union, pay the prevailing wage, and include apprenticeship.