Letter from Jeff Mehrhoff:
It has been a year since the COVID-19 pandemic shut down our state and created chaos in our personal and work lives. For many, it destroyed their livelihoods and ability to provide for their families.
You have lived through these hardships and as we begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel, I would like to share with you the approach that your union took to better help DC7 members. Once we got over the initial shock of what was unfolding and realized the true magnitude of what our members were experiencing, we put into action a comprehensive plan to continue to serve our members proactively instead of only reacting to events.
The very first thing we decided to do was expand our communication ability with members to keep you as informed as quickly as possible. We created a COVID-19 landing page on the website that was updated, sometimes daily, with information about the status of jobsites, the safety protocols being implemented throughout our industry, the various government mandates that were being implemented in both Wisconsin and Michigan and guidance on the Cares Act and its effect on our members.
We utilized a new text message system, provided by our International Union, to have conversations with members. We used this platform to check in with members and to ask if they needed help. We also continued to use DC7's text message program to quickly provide important information to every local. DC7 expanded its use of social media platforms as an additional way to provide members with information and receive feedback from you on what was going on and what we needed to do better.
We also started using conference calls with District Council 7 executive board members and delegates along with the executive boards at each local to try to continue holding monthly meetings. This eventually transitioned into the Zoom meetings we currently use to hold District Council and local meetings. We were one of the first District Councils in the IUPAT and one of the first unions in Wisconsin to utilize these various types of platforms to serve our members. As a matter of fact, there are several unions in Wisconsin that have not held any type of meeting with their members in a year.
While the District Council was working to keep members informed, our Government Affairs department was working closely with the Governor's office in Wisconsin and Michigan to make sure that our members were able to stay working and not be shut down like the construction industry in other parts of the country. I know this is a touchy subject because many members felt that they were caught in a tug of war between “essential vs expendable," but we felt that if we were able to ensure that our members were able to go to work safely, we should make the effort to keep our industries open. This was always a better option for our members than unemployment, which as it turns out, was so overwhelmed by the amount of people applying that it took months for people to receive unemployment benefits. While we working to keep members employed, we also invested in masks for every member of DC7 that wanted one to keep our members safe. We were the first in the building trades in Wisconsin to do so, and one of the first in the IUPAT.
As we progressed through the past year, we realized that our health, welfare and retirement benefits needed to be improved to better assist our members who are struggling, not only with the effects of COVID, but also with the fact that while our benefits are adequate, we still feel you should be receiving better benefits. We know we can do better, and we are committed to doing exactly that. We feel the same way about our retirement plans, although they are good, you are restricted from accessing those funds when you really need them. To address that, we will be offering additional retirement options for DC7 members later in 2021. Finally, DC7 was able to offer every member a $10,000 life insurance policy at no additional cost to you. We found that quite a few of our members did not qualify for some of the life insurance plans that are available commercially so we found a plan that everyone can take advantage of.
It's no secret we are not perfect at DC7, and we make mistakes. But I truly believe we have learned from those mistakes and what we have learned has made us better able to serve you, our members. That is why we're here and how we operate as servant leaders. The challenges we face never stop and change is a constant. Our survival is dependent on educating our members about those challenges and working together to overcome them. In the next newsletter I will be discussing the importance of organizing and the many ways that it is accomplished.
Until then, stay safe, stay strong and stay united.
Update from Brian Baumgartner:
The best part of being a representative for District Council 7 is being able to talk to the members and our signatory contractors. Visiting members on jobsites, responding to members' phone calls or meeting at a contractor's office are the best ways to get a pulse on the issues and what matters to the members of District Council 7. Over the last year we've all had to deal with issues we've never dealt with before. COVID-19—are we essential workers or are we not? Will our jobsites be shut down, and if not, will our jobsites be safe to be at? When will we return to “normal" and when we do, will there be a job to return to? I believe we have something special being a worker in Wisconsin. I believe our work ethic, our resilience and our ability to adapt are what make us the best workforce in the country. For that, I am thankful to represent the members and contractors of District Council 7.
Having access to jobs reports, contractor insights, projections and forecasts helps guide us as we look forward to manpower needs. We continue to have strong support for our apprenticeship programs and hope to continue an increase participation. National projections of non-residential construction spending did see a steep decline in the later part of 2020 and the first two quarters of 2021 but looks to increase in the second half of the year. In speaking with our contractors, they are optimistic that the rest of this year will be strong. There are some rather large projects that will be breaking ground in the Milwaukee area and Madison looks to be gearing up as well. I have also been told that projects out to bid have increased as well. We will continue keeping a close eye on the work and Finish Strong moving forward.
“Labor never quits. We never give up the fight – no matter how tough the odds, no matter how long it takes." - George Meany-
Director of Service/Business Representative Glaziers 1204 and 941