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TAUC Summer Summit: Business, Baseball and...Robots?

September 5 2017

In late August, TAUC headed west from Washington, D.C. to Pittsburgh, Pa. — in the heart of the Marcellus Shale boom — for our annual Summer Summit. The event brought together more than 200 local contractors, labor reps and owner-clients for two days of meetings, networking opportunities, informative field trips and a half-day seminar featuring some of the industry’s brightest talents. Here’s a brief recap – and if you weren’t able to make it this year, mark your calendars for 2018!

Things kicked off on Wednesday, August 23 with a morning of committee meetings, followed by lunch and then, in the afternoon, a field trip to the nearby Carnegie Mellon National Robotics Engineering Center. There, attendees received an exclusive tour and fascinating hands-on demonstrations of cutting-edge technological applications, including virtual reality (VR) simulations and an actual robot that knew how to use a battery-powered screwdriver! Afterwards, leaders from the NREC met with our contractors and discussed how robotics and other advanced high-tech solutions could be integrated into the industrial construction and maintenance market sector.

That night, it was time for a little relaxation, networking – and, of course, baseball. Our guests enjoyed a nail-biter of a game at PNC Park between the Pirates and the L.A. Dodgers (for the record, Dodgers pitcher Rich Hill had a spectacular no-hitter going through nine innings before the Pirates’ Josh Harrison slammed a leadoff home run in the tenth, earning the 1-0 victory for the home team).

Infrastructure Update

On Thursday, August 24 we wrapped up the Summer Summit with a lively and informative morning seminar. Brent Booker, Secretary-Treasurer of North America’s Building Trades Unions (NABTU), kicked things off with an update on the hottest topic on Capitol Hill right now: the possibility of a huge trillion-dollar infrastructure investment package.

Booker noted that NABTU has been engaged “at every possible level” with the Trump administration on infrastructure. He reminded the audience that the president invited NABTU President Sean McGarvey and several other union leaders to the White House on his first full day in office. Booker said NABTU is hopeful that “something happens” on the infrastructure front soon, but he’s not optimistic that a bill will move through Congress this year. Still, his organization has been in near-constant contact with both Democrats and Republicans on the issue.

“We have a seat at the table,” Booker said of the ongoing discussions — with “we” meaning both unions and the union construction industry as a whole. “One thing I am confident of with this president and his administration [is that] we have a seat at the table. We are having weekly phone calls with administration staff as to where they’re going to go with this, what it’s going to look like.

“The Trump plan for infrastructure isn’t your traditional $1 trillion investment package,” Booker added. He said public-private partnerships will likely be a part of any administration proposal, along with a plan to use taxes gleaned from repatriated money currently parked in offshore tax havens by large U.S. corporations.

Cracker Talk

Booker also discussed the massive Shell ethane cracker project underway just outside of Pittsburgh. He said at the project’s peak, various building trades will have 7,000 craftworkers on site.

“This is a home game for the building trades,” he told the audience, calling the cracker a “high-risk, high-reward” undertaking. “If we can be successful here, it will only lead to more opportunities for us in other regions of the country. We’re starting to bring industrial work back to [unions in] the Northeast that has been absent for decades.”

Larry Nelson, Secretary-Treasurer of the Beaver County Building & Construction Trades Council and a business rep with IBEW Local Union 712, also gave an information-packed update on the Shell job. The early phase of the project – including demolition of an old zinc smelter plant on the site and relocation of a rail line, among other tasks – peaked at about 600 workers, he reported. “We had numerous local union contractors from the area on the job, and most of them are still there today,” he said.

Nelson conceded that there were some communication problems early on — not unexpected for a project of this size and complexity. However, all parties involved stepped up to the plate, he said. Great Arrow Builders — a joint venture between Bechtel, McCarl’s and Babcock & Wilcox — is the EPC contractor for the project, and they “were very up front with us and told us everything they could,” he noted. “They were very receptive to our questions and concerns and always came back to us with the answers.” In December 2016, Great Arrow and the unions began holding monthly labor-management meetings to improve communication and coordination.

As of late August, “massive concrete pours” were being conducted on the site, Nelson said. There are currently around 748 union workers on site and anywhere from 50 to 100 subcontractors, a number that will most likely rise to 200 or even 300 by year’s end.

Leaders in Abundance

TAUC was also honored to welcome Michael Scott, the new executive director of the National Coordinating Committee for Multiemployer Plans (NCCMP). Scott gave attendees a comprehensive update on the “state of play” on Capitol Hill with regards to passing the final piece of the multiemployer pension reform puzzle: legislation authorizing the use of composite plans for certain troubled retirement funds. Scott said he anticipates a bill will be introduced in mid-September.

Darrell Roberts, Executive Director of the Helmets to Hardhats program, gave an informative presentation on his organization’s efforts to connect quality men and women from the Armed Forces with promising building and construction careers. And Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto stopped by to welcome us to town, as well.

TAUC wishes to thank everyone who took time out of their busy schedules to join us in Pittsburgh – and once again, if you weren’t able to make it, please consider blocking out time on your calendar in late August of next year! More details on time and location will be announced in mid-2018.

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