As we find ourselves in the middle of a long and especially frigid winter in many parts of the U.S. and Canada, it may seem difficult to look around and find reasons for optimism. After all, we’re entering the third year of a pandemic facing a surge of COVID-19 cases due to the Omicron variant and still battling over vaccines and mask mandates. The U.S. economy is struggling with inflation, driven in part by supply chain shortages that have made essential goods and services we’ve come to count on more expensive or harder to find.
These aren’t challenges to simply brush off, but they remain only temporary obstacles. During these tough times, it’s more important than ever to take the long view, to keep an eye on the horizon and prepare for what’s ahead. And as we look down the road for the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA) and its District Councils, Local Unions, members and signatory contractors, the future is bright. LIUNA and its signatory partners are about to embark on a once-in-a-generation undertaking to revitalize and modernize our country’s roads, bridges, water lines and other vital systems thanks to the passage of the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill.
We are already beginning to see the rollout of these investments from the Biden administration in the form of programs to replace outdated lead pipe service lines nationwide, programs to replace and rehabilitate crumbling bridges across the country and forward-thinking initiatives to update code standards covering nearly a quarter of all buildings. Most importantly for LIUNA members and signatory contractors, every one of these programs is coming with commitments from the Biden administration that these projects will rely heavily on union labor. There’s no doubt about the positive impact these projects and jobs will create, from providing countless workers and their families with a pathway to the middle class to improving the safety of the roads, bridges and other systems we all use on a daily basis.
This influx of work represents opportunities in other areas as well. These high-profile projects are a chance to broadcast the value of union labor and the health and safety commitment shared by LIUNA members and signatory contractors and supported by the Laborers’ Health & Safety Fund of North America (LHSFNA). These projects are a chance to show those who still question the value of building union that a booming construction industry doesn’t have to come at the expense of workers’ health and safety.
Broader construction industry trends show that it hasn’t gotten any safer to be a construction worker during the pandemic. Even without factoring in COVID-19, the fatality rate for construction laborers rose for the third straight year and is higher than it’s been in a decade. LIUNA signatory contractors and LIUNA members will soon have the opportunity to set themselves apart from this narrative on a national stage. It’s time to show that having highly skilled and trained workers does make a difference. It’s time to show that construction contractors that implement and maintain strong safety and health management programs do make a difference. There would be no better advertisement for a union construction career to the millions of workers currently sitting on the sidelines of the American labor force.
So over the coming months and years, as LIUNA members and signatory contractors get to work building and rebuilding American infrastructure, let’s make the most of this opportunity to put the union safety advantage on display. Supported by a President and Secretary of Labor who recognize the strength and skill of building trades unions, union labor is about to take center stage. The construction industry, the public and potential new workers will all be watching. Let’s go show them what we can do.