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LIUNA 24th International Convention

Published by: NJ Laborers on 01/31/2012


Post convention Follow-up

6 Questions for Ray Pocino

The activist sat down recently with newly re-elected LIUNA Vice President Raymond M. Pocino to talk about our Union and what to expect in the next five years.


Congratulations on being re-elected LIUNA Vice President and Eastern Regional Manager. 

Thank you.  But the real thanks go to the men and women of the Laborers’ International Union of North America.  This organization isn’t about me; it is about us, all us, everybody doing their part to help us succeed. I am honored to be re-elected, but the greater honor is coming to work each day for this Union.


What do you consider the big takeaways from the convention?

I think there was a sense of urgency that I have never seen before.  The delegates to the convention know how bad the industry is and how badly many of our members and their families are hurting.  Conventions are often about long-term strategic goals, but for LIUNA, the future is now.

My takeaways are these.  First, that we must do more with less.  As the construction industry struggles, we must commit ourselves to doing all we can represent our members and collaborate with our employers to win work.  But because work is so bad, we will not be throwing money at problems.  We are watching our resources and making sure that there is a bang for our buck and positive outcomes in everything we do.

A second takeaway has to do with activism and politics.  Many members might not know about the Citizens United Supreme Court case but it changes the rules for elections by allowing corporations and unions to spend unlimited amounts on independent political campaigns.  Now, that might not seem like a big deal since unions can spend unlimited amounts too. But we could never keep up with Wall Street, GE, insurance companies, and the US Chambers of Commerce.  Thus, the convention passed two resolutions.  The first resolution gradually adjusts political contributions so that it is a 5-cent per hour increase by 2016.  This will give us more resources to fight the political fight at the national level, but also at the state and local level.  In fact, 2-cents of the contribution will stay local.  But like I said, we can’t truly compete on money, which is why the other big takeaway for me is the push to empower our members and make them a bigger part of our plans and strategy.  Though we can’t spend our way to pro-labor policies we can certainly work our way there, through a strong activist network.


Do you really think this can work?

I know so.  Take the recent Port Authority of New York and New Jersey capital plan.  The Port Authority proposed substantial rate and fare increases to pay for a 10-year $33 billion capital plan.  In this economy, the resistance to rate increases was absolutely enormous.  Nonetheless, more than a thousand LIUNA members from every Local in our region turned out at the nine public hearings to show the other side of those increases—the jobs they would create, the families it would help.  Every hearing was a sea of orange shirts and it made a difference in how the media portrayed it, how politicians would react to it, and how the opposition would address our concerns.  LIUNA activists changed the political focus from a proposed policy that would hurt motorists and riders to one that would improve transportation infrastructure and put tens of thousands of people to work.  It also sent a message to our political friends and foes:  the Laborers are organized, active, and able to play a powerful role in public policy and politics.


Where is the construction industry heading?

Well, first we have to talk about where we are right now.  Never in my 50-years as a Laborer have I seen our industry so devastated by a poor economy, not just the union construction industry, but all construction.  Construction starts are down, money to finance construction is scarce, and on the public sector side, the political will to invest in our infrastructure—things like our roads, bridges, and schools--is lacking.  Under such enormous pressure, we are working very hard to create opportunities to work.  We have had some success, but we have to do more.


Will things go back to the way they were before, say, 2008?

With regards to how developers and contractors operate?  Probably not.   The construction crisis has given those folks to evaluate their relationship with each other and the building trades.  They are looking for ways to work more productively, minimize risk, and gain a competitive edge.  I would argue that the Building Trades shouldn’t wait for this change to happen to us. We should be a part of the solution while also protecting the gains we have made through the years.  

Some of our old ways of operations, especially with regards to jurisdiction and work rules, are outdated.  Contractors don’t want the hassle of having a dozen different collective bargaining agreements to navigate on the job.  There should be one agreement for all the trades.  That alone would make a huge difference. 

Some people think the only way to make things better is to cut our wages and benefits.  I don’t agree with that.  We have the most productive, well trained workforce in the world.  We are worth the money we earn.  Where we hurt ourselves is by work rules and ideas that date back to more than a century ago.  Change that and we will have contractors beating down are door looking to sign. 


Any message for your fellow members?

First of all, thank you for your commitment to this great Union. Our success is not based on what I do.  It is based on what each and every one of us do.  We are better off when a member upgrades his or her skills at a Training Center.  We improve when members walk a picket line or attend an important hearing.  Now more than ever before we need our members to be active and involved in their Union.  We need our members in the streets and in the halls of governance fighting back against anti-union rhetoric.  We need members working together to effect change in their community and to win work for their union.  Most of all, we need to put members back to work and that will only happen if we all do our share.  I believe great things will happen because I believe in our members.

Publication Date: 
Tuesday, January 31, 2012 - 12:15