Given all that has happened in the last 6 months, what is your assessment of the current state of the industry?
The past six months have been very difficult, not only to our industry, but to our entire economy and country. We have faced many challenges in the past, 9-11 always comes to mind. But the COVID-19 pandemic has presented us with challenges and problems that we have never faced. Past economic downturns have been the result of economic factors. The downturn we are facing today is the result of a public health crisis, which required the voluntary shut down of our economy. Restarting the economy under these circumstances is a new challenge. The primary responsibility we have in going forward is ensuring the safety and health of all our employees. In some ways this is easier for us than in other industries. Our work is always dangerous, and we are used to providing the most stringent safety precautions for all our employees. We know all too well what making a mistake can mean – injury or even worse. Ensuring our workers safety has always been our top priority and in the age of COVID-19 that priority remains of TOP PRIORITY.
What do you see for immediate future, say in the coming 6-12 months?
The marketplace is changing. New York has always been a strong union city. Unfortunately, the non-union sector of our industry has slowly been making significant inroads in our work. And a crisis like the current pandemic only serves to help them make further inroads. Add to that the fact that many projects are on hold pending the re-opening of our economy, and defeating the virus, and we face two enemies. Developers are waiting to see what the new normal will look like, will businesses need the amount of office space they previously needed? Will the residential market continue to grow, or will people leave the city for other locations? And maybe most importantly, will the financing needed to proceed with the projects be available? Will the money be there? Any one of these challenges would be serious, together they create a whole new level of problems.
So, what is the answer?
Like I said a strong labor union has built this city. And today, more than ever we need a strong, skilled workforce. Our goal is not to meet our non-union competition on their level, but rather to raise them to our level. Working as partners with our signatory unions, we offer our workers stability, with the most stringent safety precautions, good wages and benefits. The difference is a job versus a career. We are committed to our developers, industry, and employees. All we ask is for a level playing field and that everyone play by the same rules If that is the case, we will always prevail against any challenge we face – economic, health, or non-union.
As a trustee of the Mason Tender Trust Funds, you share responsibilities with other industry and union leaders in ensuring the security and welfare of thousands of Laborers. How has the pandemic affected the Funds and members it serves?
Our welfare and trust funds remain strong. As trustees we take very seriously our responsibility to the members who benefit from these funds. It is their hard work and money that maintains these funds. Every decision we make is to protect them. That is why as the pandemic hit and our industry shut down, we took quick action to allow participant to make a one-time $10,000 withdrawal from their annuity account, without penalty. The thought was this emergency action would help our participants meet their immediate expenses. While the funds remain strong, it is important to remember one thing – they only remain strong if the union members work on collectively bargained jobs and the contributions are made on their behalf to the funds. Working non-union does nothing to benefit the funds or the future benefits for the members. We must remain strong and committed to the signatory employers and the unions.