Building Trades celebrate busy construction season, look to future

Minnesota’s construction unions, gathered for the annual convention of the State Building & Construction Trades Council celebrated a busy construction season while also looking to the future.

The group’s two-day convention Thursday and Friday included numerous speeches by public officials and discussion of current and future construction. At the moment, the unions are experiencing near full employment on projects across the state.

“We have an amount of construction activity that we haven’t seen in Duluth in many decades,” Mayor Don Ness said in welcoming union delegates to his city. Projects include street renovations, a $29 million waterfront hotel, a new transit hub and a seven-story headquarters building for the Maurice’s clothing chain.

Photo of MN Lieutenant Governor Tina SmithLieutenant Governor Tina Smith told Building Trades delegates that Minnesota is doing well economically because the state has taken "a pragmatic but progressive course."

“We are really busy,” noted Craig Olson, president of the Duluth Building and Construction Trades Council.

Statewide, some 130,000 people are employed on $6.7 billion worth of construction projects, reported Ken Peterson, commissioner of the state Department of Labor and Industry.

Employment in construction has increased by 42,000 since Governor Mark Dayton took office in 2011, he noted.

Assistant Commissioner Jessica Looman said more opportunities have been created for people to enter the trades.

“We now have 10,000 [registered] apprentices in the state of Minnesota,” she said. “We’re back where we were pre-recession.”

Of those, 19.3 percent are women or people of color, she said.

The Building Trades face the challenge of a wave of retirements by skilled trades workers, of whom the vast majority are white men.

Photo of MN AFL-CIO President Shar KnutsonState Building Trades President Harry Melander told the convention that the future construction workforce will depend heavily on “new Americans and women.”

The trades council is expanding its outreach to these workers, he said, adding “We need a full throttle effort in recruitment to begin to build a new generation of union members.”

Melander also expressed concern that the state continue to make improvements in infrastructure, which lead to greater private investment and more jobs. He called the 2015 session of the Minnesota Legislature “disappointing” because lawmakers failed to pass a comprehensive plan for transportation and transit funding.

He said he is “cautiously optimistic” about passage a $1 billion bonding bill in the 2016 session.

State Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, and House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, both addressed the Building Trades convention and pledged to work hard on those issues.

Article by Barb Kucera is reprinted from Workday Minnesota.