In October 2013, IUPAT General President Kenneth Rigmaiden assembled 16 members from district councils across the United States with success in organizing and political action for a planning session to implement a new initiative to engage community groups. The initiative, Community Organizing for Real Economics, or CORE, is designed to grow the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades through partnerships with local community groups, as well as to bolster IUPAT market share and the impact of our political activism.
“When the IUPAT forges relationships with the communities in which we live and work, there is power,” General President Kenneth Rigmaiden told the delegates of the 31st IUPAT General Convention in August 2014. “We must engage our communities and all their diversity. We must be brave enough to engross our organizing campaigns with those who may not look like us, but dothink like us, do have our values about the dignity of work and workers.”
General Vice President at Large/Director of Organizing Jim Williams Jr. was also among the leadership that spoke at the general convention that week. He told the delegates that, through CORE, we need to “break down the barriers and misconceptions that today’s non-union worker has about our trades, to begin the process of educating a new generation of workers.”
Open Arms for Labor?
The public is ready for unions to show everyone what more they can do for their communities as well. A recent Gallup poll reported that “Americans’ approval of labor unions has jumped five percentage points to 58 percent over the past year, and is now at its highest point since 2008, when 59 percent approved.” Although the spike in approval ratings for the labor movement is welcome news, we are still a far cry from the 75 percent approval rating unions enjoyed in the mid-1950s.
Why such a stark difference in approval between the 1950s and now? It was the end of the “Great Compression” that changed everything for unions.
As the Economic Policy Institute reported in its article, “As unions decline, inequality rises,” the passage of the National Labor Relations Act in 1935, “sparked a wave of unionization that led to three decades of shared prosperity and what some call the Great Compression: when the share of national income taken by the very rich was cut by one-third. The ‘countervailing power’ of labor unions (not just at the bargaining table but in local, state, and national politics) gave them the ability to raise wages and working standards for members and non-members alike.”
Unions were clearly perceived to be on the side of all working men and women – union and non-union – as the high public approval rates (measured by Gallup since 1936) showed.
As the article goes on to report, the three decades following the mid-1970s were “an era highlighted by the filibuster of labor law reform in 1978, the Reagan administration’s crushing of the PATCO strike, and the passage of anti-worker trade deals with Mexico and China – labor’s bargaining power collapsed.”
That collapse caused an enormous drop in union membership, from nearly 35 percent in the 1950s to just over 11 percent today. The labor movement didn’t only lose members over those years, we also lost the support of our communities. We were no longer seen as a champion for a better life for all like we were over 60 years ago.
Through ongoing CORE campaigns, the IUPAT is trying to change that perception of the labor movement, one community at a time.
Building Our Students
In August 2013, IUPAT members of District Council 58 in St. Louis, Missouri, joined with local community leaders to fill over 600 book bags with supplies for the students of two elementary schools. The gifts were made possible by a donation from the Painters and Allied Trades for Children’s Hope (PATCH) Foundation, the charitable arm of the IUPAT. The bags were delivered for the first day of school to the delight of not only the students, but their parents and teachers as well.
This effort was made a part of an already ongoing conversation between the IUPAT and local community groups to increase the hiring of small and minority contractors who are interested in using union labor. We campaigned to rid the school system of unscrupulous contractors, and partnered with local groups to develop a training program at workers’ centers in the city to put local residents in DOL-certified apprenticeship programs.
Since 2013, the IUPAT has donated nearly $200,000 in supplies and over 3,600 book bags for students in schools across the country through the PATCH Foundation. These gifts have opened countless doors to new local partnerships in those cities and have emboldened our community building efforts.
Providing a Hand Up
No community can prosper if its residents are not working in a job that provides hope for a successful professional and personal life. Income inequality offers few men and women who lack education and training the opportunity to build a life where they can raise a family and provide for their loved ones.
As a part of CORE, the IUPAT is putting training programs across the country.
Members of District Council 11 (Connecticut, Rhode Island) and the Rhode Island Building Trades are working with a program called Building Futures. This is a pre-apprentice program that trains and brings qualified candidates from high-risk, low-income, and inner city environments directly into local Building Trades affiliates.
In New York City, District Council 9 IUPAT activists are heavily involved in an organization called MAN UP!, a youth organization that mentors local youth after school and in the summers. The organization provides employment readiness training, among other activities created to help young men and women grow into a mentality that they too can build a career for themselves. DC 9 members are also working closely with Build Up NYC!, an advocacy group for workers in the middle class for better jobs and fair pay on projects in New York City.
In the West, one of the strongest partnerships we’ve formed over the years is with the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, or LAANE, through District Council 36 (Southern California). Founded in 1993, LAANE is a leading advocacy organization dedicated to building a new economy for all based on good jobs, thriving communities and a healthy environment. LAANE reports that it has improved more than 350,000 lives in the area and is working every day to raise that number.
The IUPAT Community Day of Action
On this IUPAT Community Day of Action, our members in every district council will choose a project to better the community in which they live and work. As a part of an ongoing campaign of volunteering, these activities can range from working on a local park, participating in a rally for civic and social justice, or even actions to preserve our environment.
The idea is to work as One Union on April 16 to build local community partnerships and highlight to the media and public that the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades is more than just an organization that represents workers on the jobsite; we are neighbors who are dedicated to building our communities.
There is more news to come on the IUPAT Community Day of Action. In the meantime, our communities are waiting for us to make a difference for them again. Contact your district council learn what you can do to advance the IUPAT, the labor movement, your neighbors and your communities.
Do you have pictures and stories of your IUPAT members giving back to your community? Share them with us via e-mail: CORE@iupat.org.