Providence Journal: Labor, industry build R.I.

Tim Byrne, Business Manager of United Association Local 51 and George Nee, President of the Rhode Island AFL-CIO, authored the following post following the PILMA facility tour at Local 51 in East Providence, Rhode Island.

Click here to view the article on the Providence Journal website.

In Rhode Island and around the country, it is often said that labor, industry and government should put aside differences and work together to build up the economy, create jobs and spur innovation. Here in Rhode Island, we’ve listened, and that’s exactly what we’re doing.

Earlier this year, we hosted a training facility tour of United Association Local 51 with Gov. Gina M. Raimondo, representatives of the biopharmaceutical industry and area labor unions. They saw firsthand how our state-of-the-art training programs prepare apprentices to meet the retrofitting and construction needs of Rhode Island industry. Bringing these groups together is evidence of how our cooperation is putting people back to work.

Rhode Island was hit hard by the recession, with construction taking the brunt of the blow. As the unemployment rate falls for the state overall, job creation in this sector continues to lag. Before businesses can invest locally in new and existing infrastructure, they must first have confidence in their economic outlook. That’s what we’re seeing in Rhode Island — a state whose unemployment rate dropped dramatically from 7.7 percent a year ago to 5.8 percent today.

Despite the recession, the biopharmaceutical industry has continually relied on the skill of our members.

This industry, and members of the building construction trades unions, have been working side-by-side for over 10 years, committed to the shared goals of expanding the economy, creating quality jobs and fostering innovation. The driving force behind this partnership, formalized as the Pharmaceutical Industry Labor-Management Association, is the shared belief in and dedication to pushing the limits of what is possible.

Whether it is discovering life-saving cures or retrofitting a custom environment to manufacture medicines, the building trades and biopharmaceutical industry are continually innovating and challenging their capabilities.

As the business manager of UA Local 51 and the president of the Rhode Island AFL-CIO, we must prepare our members to meet and exceed industry standards. To remain competitive, the building construction trades unions invest over $1 billion in training their members each year to learn the latest technology and cutting-edge techniques, all privately funded. This means that the biopharmaceutical companies have a ready pool of skilled construction workers to build and retrofit facilities where new drugs and even cures are discovered and manufactured.

We are fortunate that Governor Raimondo recognizes the importance of creating a stable environment for business to thrive and investing in new and existing infrastructure here in Rhode Island. Her initiative, Real Jobs Rhode Island, does just that by ensuring that businesses have access to a skilled workforce to meet their needs.

The biopharmaceutical industry sets exacting standards for its research and manufacturing facilities. Companies that invest in Rhode Island, such as Amgen, whose recent $500 million expansion was built with a project labor agreement, have realized that hiring union contractors makes good business sense since they are putting the best-trained, safest and most productive workers on their capital construction projects. They know that hiring union workers means that the job will be done right the first time.

Our members also enjoy the benefits of new medical breakthroughs much as other Americans do. The building trades provide top medical care for our members and as a result are healthier throughout their lives and into retirement.

The building construction trades take great pride in our work. This is especially true for those who build and retrofit biopharmaceutical facilities. We’re proud to build the foundation, walls and surfaces where scientists are developing new therapies to treat cancer, prevent the spread of deadly disease and develop other cures for illnesses that were once fatal. Their contribution not only earns them a paycheck, but also the knowledge that they have made a difference in the quality of life of Americans and people throughout the world. It’s important that we continue to protect the industries that provide life-saving medicines as well as the jobs, economic vibrancy and the medical breakthroughs that come with it.