A Community That Expects More Gets More
In Milwaukee and Wisconsin, we take pride in many things, from our traditions, festivals and sports to our beer, curds and brats (there’s also the Milwaukee Special pizza, but the rest of the state just calls it a sausage, mushroom and onion). This pride necessarily extends to our buildings, roads and infrastructure. There, if we see a union-affiliated contractor’s sign on the job site, we know that it’s being built to the highest standard by a contractor who takes care of its people.
As a member of the community, regardless of whether you are the owner of a project or have money in it, if it was built in your backyard it’s your project and you have the right to ask if it was built union, and should feel pride when the answer is ‘yes.’
You have the right to know if the workers on the job site are committed to their trade and each other. You have the right to know if their safety and wellbeing are priorities. And you have the right to know if the contractor has a local presence, and is willing to stake its reputation and future within the community.
Milwaukee knows this first-hand. Let’s not forget that it’s union hands that built this city. And in many cases, it was union dollars that brought these projects across the finish line.
Unions Have Contributed to Milwaukee’s Flourishing Culture, Entertainment and Downtown
There’s a long history in the city and region of unions building projects that have a significant impact on our culture and identity. We don’t have to go too far into our past to find examples, like American Family Field (formerly Miller Park), where the names of the 5,000 workers who helped build the stadium are forever enshrined in the Worker’s Wall.
The Potawatomi Hotel and Casino, Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, Summerfest Grounds, and Wisconsin Center Expansion have all firmly positioned Milwaukee as a destination city for work and play, with cultural amenities that rival the largest cities (but actually accessible here in Milwaukee). There’s also the Marquette Interchange, which is awe inspiring for any motorist traversing it for the first time, but which has helped to unclog a major artery for city and state commuters and commerce.
Not to be left out is the Fiserv Forum, a new mecca, worthy of our World Champion Milwaukee Bucks. As the largest, most highly visible project in Wisconsin’s history, not to mention its complexity and ambitious timeline, the Fiserv Forum had no margin of error and needed to be right — start to finish. By working under a Project Labor Agreement, the stakeholders attained greater predictability in costs, timetables, quality and safety. Promise delivered.
For the unions, being a strong community partner goes beyond just building the future, sometimes it requires an ego that can write checks and back them up. Ten years ago, the AFL-CIO Housing Investment Trust (HIT) pushed $42.4 million of union pension capital into the pot to help finance construction of the $56.7 million Moderne project. What do you do with a winning hand, you double down. Which is exactly what happened this past year when we again saw the HIT invest $104.5 million to secure the Barrett Lo’s $191 million Couture project. This is in addition to the partnership from the local Building Trades United Pension Trust Fund, who’s investment helped close the gap and get this project moving for the city and the region.
Flashpoints in Congregate Settings
High-rise residential and office buildings, and entertainment and cultural venues, are not the only congregate settings in which we turn to the experts to ensure we have adequate ventilation and safety protocols and standards. As we have seen over the past year, health care facilities are an environment in which there can be zero exceptions for air quality control.
The union trades were way out ahead on this one and have been utilizing infection control risk assessment (ICRA) training and protocols for a generation. And not just in the mechanical trades, but across virtually all union partners. This deep training and collaboration guarantee patient safety in occupied spaces, whether under remodel or maintenance contracts.
Greater attention has been paid to traditionally less public settings like manufacturing, where otherwise healthy individuals find themselves working shoulder to shoulder, unable to maintain a safe social distance. The manufacturing industry has been able to turn to the union building trades, the leaders in safety and training, for creative solutions to help maintain a healthy and safe work environment, which in turn has kept the industry running strong.
Other congregate settings, like schools, continue to be a focal point of concern throughout this pandemic. And the building and construction trades continue to be a strong partner, bringing tech and expertise to every situation.
Community Members are Entitled to Expect More
As a member of the community who uses a private or public space, you are entitled to expect more. You are entitled to ask if a project was built union. Doing so sends a message to stakeholders in the building community that the safety and wellbeing of workers matter. That the reputation and integrity of contractors matter. And that the future of Milwaukee, the region and our state matters.