Monday, February 06, 2023

Unions: They work

by Russ Fahlgren
| June 18, 2010 9:00 PM

If you live in North Idaho and refuse to drink with Republicans, you may find yourself drinking alone, and everyone knows that's a bad sign. Once after a round of golf and a couple of beers, two of my right-wing friends chided me about my supposed easy life as a member of Laborers Local 238. I told them, "If you guys had to do what I do, you wouldn't make it through the first day." I was just being honest.

Unions like mine exist for a simple reason. They work. Recently, around 50 of our members were employed on the bridge resurfacing project on I-90 from Post Falls to the state line. Most of us worked 12-hour shifts for 20 days in a row. Our employer, Penhall, hired another company, Rampart, whose hydro-demo machines demolished the old, deteriorated surface of the concrete to ready the bridge decks for paving. Astraddle the supply trailer, twin Caterpillar V8 diesels roared at peak rpm powering a series of pumps which forced water through the blasting jets at 36,000 psi. At a combined cost exceeding $1,000 an hour, three of these beasts hammered away continuously. Add to that, Penhall brought three paving machines, the largest of them, brand new and purchased specifically for the project. An army of support vehicles including tanker trucks, vacuum trucks, trailers, cranes and a fleet of smaller trucks moved equipment and material from site to site. As if the pressure of ponying up that extensive layout weren't enough, our employer faced a $50,000 per day penalty, imposed by the ldaho Transportation Department, should the project not be completed on time.

Imagine you're the employer. It's your money. You have a few million dollars riding on how things fall out over the next 20 days. What are you going to do? Run a "Help Wanted" in the Nickel's Worth?

If you're smart, as Penhall was, you'll hire us. We're the best option for the employer, and, ultimately, for the taxpayer. Skeptics often assume there is some kind of sweetheart deal between contractors and labor unions. First of all; the job site is not a place where terms of endearment are exchanged. Secondly, if you think the contractor's going to let you stand around for one minute, you've never worked construction. Their hiring decisions are purely business. It's no-nonsense practicality, and all about money. God help you if you come between them and 50 cents of their profit. That's why they hire us. There's no labor pool that can be tapped, no workforce that can be mustered that can come close to what Laborers 238 can accomplish. When it was all over, Penhall management sent a letter to the president of our Local, saying they were extremely pleased with the quality of our work and thanked us for delivering the job on time. I've never been more proud to be a member of any organization.

Some people have a searchlight out trying to find someone to blame for our country's collapse If they shine a light on us, I hope they look long enough to see the truth. We're working to rebuild America. We sure as hell ain't tearing it down.

Russ Fahlgren is a resident of Worley.

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