Melander steps down as St. Paul Building Trades’ top officer

(Michael Moore, Union Advocate) Harry Melander has stepped down after 10 years as the executive secretary of the St. Paul Building and Construction Trades Council, which swore Don Mullin into office as Melander’s successor in the full-time position at a delegate meeting tonight. Delegates voted unanimously to elect Mullin at a meeting last month. They also elected Tom McCarthy of Plumbers Local 34 to serve as president. McCarthy replaces Local 34’s Stan Theis, who retired earlier this year.

Although Melander is stepping down from the St. Paul Building Trades, he will continue to serve as president of the Minnesota Building and Construction Trades Council, a part-time position. Two years remain on his term in office.

To facilitate a smooth transition in leadership, Mullin began working alongside Melander in the Building Trades’ office last month. Mullin acknowledged he has big shoes to fill in his new job.

“Harry has so much knowledge and so many connections,” Mullin said. “He understands that all of the Trades have a part to play. He understands what the ‘Fitters are doing, what the Plumbers are doing, what the Ironworkers are doing and the rest.

“He’s done so much, given back so much to St. Paul and the state of Minnesota. He really cares about people and the advancement of the middle class.”

Harry Melander, second from left, shown in a Union Advocate file photo from 1988, when he was president of Carpenters Local 87. Melander and Al Garcia of Centro Cultural Chicano spoke at a press conference deploring conditions at a construction site in Bloomington that employed migrant workers.

Harry Melander is second from left in this Union Advocate file photo from 1988, when he was president of Carpenters Local 87. Melander and Al Garcia of Centro Cultural Chicano spoke at a press conference deploring conditions at a construction site in Bloomington that employed migrant workers.

A ‘lasting impact’ on St. Paul

A member of the Carpentersunion, Melander rose to the position of president in Local 87 before going to work full time as a business representative for the St. Paul Building Trades in 1997, assisting then-Executive Secretary Dick Anfang.

Anfang and his predecessor in office, Bill Peterson, reached out to elected officials, community leaders and developers, cultivating relationships, Melander said, that would create jobs for Building Trades union members for years to come. Melander’s focus over the last 10 years has been on maintaining those relationships – and building new ones.

“We have a great relationship with cities, counties and school boards in the area,” Melander said. “I’ve been fortunate enough to have an excellent mayor to work with in St. Paul, as well as the City Council.”

The admiration is mutual, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman said.

“Harry is a good friend and has been an incredible public servant for the City of Saint Paul,” Coleman said. “He is a strong advocate for women and immigrants entering the Building Trades, a determined and resolute trade unionist and an unwavering voice for job creation and economic development.

“While we will all miss his colorful quips and great sense of humor, his leadership within the labor movement will leave a lasting impact on our city.”

Melander’s tenure with the St. Paul Building Trades was not without challenges. He was at the helm during a sharp downturn in the industry following the economic collapse of 2008, with work falling off in some crafts by as much as 70 percent. But infrastructure investments like the Green Line and major construction projects like Target Field – both aided by the Building Trades’ lobbying efforts at City Hall and the Capitol – helped soften the recession’s blow.

“The reason we as a council stayed together is because we have affiliates who appreciate what the council does and who believe in what the Building Trades do,” Melander said. “The industry is very cyclical. But the Building Trades remain a great place for men and women to have a middle-class lifestyle.”

In addition to staying on as president of the statewide Building Trades council, Melander will remain involved in overseeing construction of a new labor center at 345 W. 7th St. “We’re going to give people a new home in St. Paul for a strong labor movement in the future,” he said.

Melander’s advice to Mullin, his successor?

“It’s about relationships and trust,” Melander said of the job. “You’re not always going to get to ‘yes,’ but if you can’t do the deal, you walk away with a smile on your face anyway.”

Don Mullen

Don Mullin

Mullin takes the reins

Mullin, 43, is a White Bear Lake resident and a 20-year member of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades. Before his election to the Building Trades Council, Mullin worked as political director of IUPAT District Council 82 and as business representative of Sign and Display Local 880.

Mullin said he hopes to maintain and build on the Council’s existing relationships with local governments, including school boards, city councils and county boards. When those relationships are strong, the Council is in a better position to “police our work,” he said.

“We can look for opportunities to see project labor agreements and enforcement of prevailing wage laws,” he said. “A lot of development comes through city dollars. We need to be developing those relationships and engaging these communities in what we’re all about.”

Ramsey County recently dedicated a staff person to investigating and enforcing prevailing wage on a part-time basis. Mullin said he hopes to recruit other municipalities in the region to pool their resources with the county to support a full-time position.

Mullin also will work to support unions in their efforts to reach out to communities and demographic groups underrepresented in the Trades.

“If you look at most union members today, they’ve gotten here through a family member or somebody else they know,” he said. “We need to be engaging other communities to make sure they know we’ve got a great pathway into the middle class. There are some great career opportunities in this area.”

In addition to his work with IUPAT District Council 82, Mullin has served two years on the White Bear Lake School Board, and he sits on Ramsey County’s Workforce Investment Board and its task force on ice arenas.