Following eight years under Gov. Scott Walker’s leadership, the climate in Wisconsin was decidedly anti-union, with So-Called “Right to Work” laws in the state and the loss of Prevailing Wage. Now thanks to Gov. Tony Evers, the labor climate is recovering and unions are regaining their strength.
Dan Bukiewicz, President of the Milwaukee Building and Construction Trades Council, joined the America’s Work Force Union Podcast to discuss what the infrastructure bill recently passed by the U.S. Senate means for the trades, as well as the great opportunities apprenticeship brings to high school and college graduates looking to start union careers.
A better union environment in Wisconsin
Bukiewicz described the labor environment under Walker’s governorship as particularly hostile. Walker’s administration threw everything at the labor movement, but nevertheless unions persevered. Under Evers leadership, organized labor is recovering and strengthening. The environment for labor rights is improving, but there is more lost ground to regain, Bukiewicz added.
Fortunately, union construction workers were declared essential during the pandemic and the demand for work remained strong, Bukiewicz said. The safety protocols, higher wages and better benefits proved to be particularly beneficial to union members in the face of the crisis. These benefits include overtime (paid at time-and-a-half), paid sick days, bereavement pay and maternity pay. Increasingly, non-union workers learn about these benefits, want them and decide to join a union, he said.
Apprenticeship offers a doorway to a good paying career
The door to a solid union career begins with an apprenticeship. For the past seven years Bukiewicz has served as the President of the Milwaukee Building and Construction Trades Council, but he owes it all to his time as a union electrician. Without his IBEW apprenticeship, Bukiewicz said he would be nothing.
Apprenticeships give young people a good opportunity to get started on family-sustaining careers, Bukiewicz said. Going into the trades is an excellent alternative to college because it provides a path to a high paying job without the burden of student debt.
This is particularly true with the U.S. Senate’s passage of the infrastructure bill, Bukiewicz said. It will bring good work to the trades. Construction jobs are in high demand, thanks to a strong construction economy and an aging workforce that faces increased retirement rates in the coming decades.
Bukiewicz joked that he now has spent more time in high school encouraging young people to consider a career in the trades than he actually spent attending high school. He encourages young people to have conversations with their parents if they do not think college is the right fit for them. By becoming a journeyman in any of the building trades, young people can receive good pay and benefits.
Bukiewicz said he has encountered college graduates who decide to become apprentices and go into the trades, often after a difficult job search on their original career path.