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UA President Addresses MCAA Conference

April 27, 2005
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Bill Hite
Editor's Note: The following text was excerpted from a speech given by Bill Hite, recently elected general president of the United Association (UA). The speech was delivered to an audience of nearly 2,000 attendees at the Mechanical Contractors Association of America (MCAA) national convention in Scottsdale, Ariz.

I'm honored to be here this morning addressing the MCAA convention as the new general president of the UA.

As most of you are aware, my predecessor and the UA general secretary-treasurer resigned approximately three months ago.

There's been a lot of accusations against them and there currently is an investigation going on to determine any evidence of wrongdoings. This has led to a lot of negativity felt by the entire UA.

I'm here to tell you all this morning that is the past, and today we are focusing on the future. Everything that transpired under the previous administration is being investigated and evaluated. When that investigation is complete, a proper course of action will be taken regarding any and all wrongdoings.

We intend to put the past behind us and keep our eyes on the future.

I can tell you that my administration will have only one agenda and that is our organization, its membership, and our industry. You can trust me when I tell you we won't be sidetracked by anyone or anything.

My main focus will be on jobs, fair wages and benefits, and working with our good union contractors to grow market share.

The three new UA top officers - General Secretary-Treasurer Pat Perno, Assistant General President Steve Kelly, and me - realize that gaining back respect and confidence starts at the top. In the last three months, I feel we have taken a giant step toward that goal.

Bill Hite's Leadership And Where He Came From

For those of you who don't know me, I came out of Local 597 in Chicago. I am a third-generation UA member and my son, also in the UA, is fourth generation. My grandfather started his apprenticeship in my local in 1898. That means my family has been involved in this industry for 107 years.

My father was fortunate to work his way up from an apprentice to become president of a large mechanical contractor in Chicago. He was always very active in the local MCA. I served my apprenticeship for that company and worked for them for 18 years before I was elected as a business agent.

During those 18 years, I wore many hats. I attended many MCA training seminars as well as many MCA functions.

I know firsthand that there is no conflict between a good union man being a good employee and even a good employer.

I realize a partnership between the UA and our contractors is the key to success. I always say that when I started working 37 years ago, the general consensus on the job was "us against them" - us being the union and them being the union contractors.

Times were different then. Unions and their contractors had about an 85 percent market share. We felt we had inherent rights as union members, and nothing would ever change - how wrong we were!

The fact is we watched our market share keep freefalling and did very little to stop the downward slide.

So here we are today. In some parts of the country, we still have a good market share. However, these sectors are too few and far between.

We have to address issues as they arise in order to not only stop our market share from further erosion, but also to gain ground wherever and however we can.

There's no secret formula or set rule for success. Different situations constantly arise in our industry and we have to be flexible in our resolve. Too many times, I've heard "this is the way we've always done it and we're not changing now" - wrong attitude.

Projects And New Directions

Non-union contractors are a real threat. We have to learn both from our failures and also our successes. Sometimes we have to think out of the box. A good example of this is our Gulf Coast initiative.

The Gulf Coast District Council was chartered in April 2003. We opened an office in Houston, Texas in August of that year. Kirk Smith, our director of organizing, is in charge of the Council. Thirteen local unions are involved. The District Council has jurisdiction over all industrial work along the Gulf Coast.

Really, when you think about it, we had nothing more to lose in that market. We were doing less than one percent of the industrial work in the area, which means we were losing tens of thousands of jobs ... and our contractors were also losing an enormous amount of work.

When we chartered the District Council, we held meetings with different contractor groups, and we even sat down with some owners. Everyone has been very receptive. We understand that we have to instill in both the users and our contractors that it's not going to be business as usual. We are willing...and ready ... to work with them for everyone's benefit.

The UA, the owners, and our contractors are all part of our tripartite approach to the massive amount of industrial work in this area. I feel this approach makes us more successful. In fact, I believe that the owners, contractors, and the union, working together, is the key to success - not only along the Gulf but throughout the U.S. and Canada.

And I'm happy to report that we are having some real success in the region. We are currently putting together an aggressive marketing plan in the Gulf Coast because we've proven we can be successful. It's been a good feeling to be back working in industrial plants we haven't been in for the past 20 years.

I would like to give you an overview of the various UA Departments. The Training Department is going through a major change. George Bliss, the current training director, is retiring on April 1. George will stay involved as a consultant on plumbing codes and issues.

George is currently in New Zealand where he will be taking over as director of the World Plumbing Council. We're excited about this because this is the first time anyone from labor has been elected director of this group.

The World Plumbing Council is a very prestigious organization that has great influence over the development of plumbing codes and standards, so we think it is very important that the unionized sector of the industry has such strong representation.

Our new director of training is Mike Arndt. He's out of Chicago and he has been involved in training for most of his UA career. Mike is already making some big changes in our training program. He's focusing on HVAC service and he wants to get every local involved in service training, as well as the UA STAR certification program.

We're not going to accept status quo when it comes to training. Training and certification are one of our biggest marketing tools that we intend to utilize. No other organization that I am aware of can boast they spend over $100 million in training annually. Providing our contractor with the best trained work force in the country is our goal.

Organizing For More Strength

Everyone reads or hears about the decline in union density. I'm happy to report that's not the case with the UA. In 1996, we had a membership of approximately 285,000. Today, we are approaching 330,000. Growing the membership is not an easy task. We lose, through death, expulsion, and withdrawal, about 16,000 members per year. That equates to having taken in about 22,000 new members per year to grow the membership to where it stands today.

We're having good success in organizing and we hope our recent problems won't have a negative effect. Even if it does, it will only be short term.

On the political scene, we're going to be taking a non-partisan approach. We will support those politicians who support us, regardless if they are Republicans or Democrats. The Republicans control Congress and the White House and I think we can reach some common ground on the energy bill and ANWR. If the energy bill passes with ANWR, it will mean millions of man-hours of work for our union and union contractors. I have reached out to the Republicans and I am working with them to get support from the Democrats on this important initiative.

It's my plan to work with the Republicans on the energy bill to build a working relationship. Once that relationship is established, we will be looking for help from them for the same pension fund relief for the multi-employer funds that was given to the single employer pension funds.

These are the two cornerstones of our political agenda and if we're successful, both the UA and our contractors will benefit.

Much of the success in organizing I talked about earlier is due to our national agreements. The National Mechanical Equipment Service and Maintenance Agreement has become very successful under its director, Don House. Service is going to be a major part of our future growth and success, and Don is the right man for the job.

The Residential Plumbing Agreement - under Gary Hamilton - has been growing in leaps and bounds. It's tough to get this market back after we lost it to non-union but Gary has a plan and he's making it work.

National agreements like the Specialty Agreement, UA-IBEW Instrument Tech Agreement, UA Fabrication Agreements, and the Non-Destructive Testing Agreement - all administered by Steve Kelly - are good agreements that contribute "big time" to our success.

Contrary to what some people may say, national agreements are not designed to interfere with local collective bargaining. They were written to make you contractors more competitive and increase work opportunities for our membership. They have been extremely successful.

On another front in Washington, the Mechanical Allied Crafts group was formed recently. We call it "MAC" for short.

MAC is comprised of six building trades unions that do work in the mechanical industry. These are: the UA, IBEW, Sheet Metal Workers, Ironworkers, Insulators, and the Boilermakers.

I'm proud to have recently been elected President of MAC. I think it is very important that all of us in the mechanical trades work together.

We intend to bring in representatives from all sides - the trades, contractors, and construction users - so we can create a plan to confront some of the challenges facing us today.

The Future Of The UA

The UA has approximately 330,000 members, 330 locals, thousands of contractors, and billions of dollars in pension funds. We will recommend to our members, locals, contractors, and trustees to utilize the banks in the program. In return, they will build and maintain their facilities utilizing 100 percent union contractors and UA members. I have meetings set up with Bank of America and Union Planters Bank to get them to buy in.

To me, it makes all the sense in the world to be using our financial resources to our advantage. I brought this idea to MAC and the Building Trades and they want to buy into the program. I believe this kind of approach can serve as a model for other industries, like grocery stores and drugstores.

Think of the thousands of Walgreens and Rite Aids and CVS stores that are all over North America, and you get an idea of how much work is out there, just waiting for us. It's an exciting concept, and I know the other building trades presidents are as enthusiastic as I am.

In conclusion, I started my remarks today by talking about the long history my family has in the UA. Now, we are looking to the future, to making sure that the UA is around for another 100 years...stronger than ever.

It's time to focus on what made this organization so successful in the past, and not allow ourselves to be sidetracked. It's not about building hotels or buying golf courses. It's all about growing the organization and creating work opportunities, good wages and benefits for our members. That's our job as general officers and we're going to get the job done.

One thing I want to promise you today is that I'll never forget where I came from. I intend to represent every UA member, not just a select few. And I intend to treat our contractors with the respect they deserve as our partners and our employers. Jobs for UA members relate to opportunities for our contractors.

If there's one thing I've learned in my 37 years in the UA, it's that union jobs are all about honesty and integrity and no one man is bigger than the organization. On that issue, I won't be compromised, and you can take that to the bank.

Thanks so much for your attention and your hospitality. I'm looking forward to working with all of you. Enjoy the week and have a safe journey home.

Publication date: 05/02/2005

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