IBJ: How is the Carpenters’ union doing?
Bond: Man-hours have gone up. We’re maintaining our workforce but we could use more. We’re reaching out and unionizing some non-union contractors. We’re reaching out to non-union carpenters and bringing them in. Things are going well but Southern Illinois is slow. I pay close attention to what goes on in Southern Illinois and I know that the governor is trying to fix things in a tough way. We actually had to loan money to a contractor that had a government job. He bought the materials but then the governor cut off the funding and the contractor was sitting there with $400,000 of materials to get a job started. We had to loan him the money so he wouldn’t go out of business. Fortunately for us, the Missouri side is doing well. A lot of our Illinois contractors and members are working on this side of the river. So, we’re 95 percent employed.
IBJ: What are the big projects that are going on?
Bond: We have a lot of work going on at BJC and they’ve been a great partner with us and the contractors. We have a lot of apartment and retirement home construction going on. Retail is starting to pick up a little bit. If you head west, we’re doing a lot of work in Columbia, Mo., and we’re swamped in Kansas City. I think Kansas City’s economy is running better than St. Louis.’ The CityArchRiver project is continuing and the NGA is going to be a huge project for us as well as the new Centene headquarters. So, we’re anticipating the next three or four years to be pretty good.
IBJ: Why is there an annual effort in the Missouri legislature to pass Right to Work?
Bond: It’s a big push by Rex Sinquefeld in St. Louis and another billionaire by the name of Humphreys in Joplin. There’s also a lot of out of state money that comes in from the Koch brothers and other organizations of that sort who don’t want to deal with guys like me. They want to be able to set the tone the way they want to set it; set the stage the way they want to set it; put on stage who they want on stage; and screw everybody else. When labor’s voice goes away, the middle class will continue to dwindle. During my career I’ve watched the middle class decline; I’ve watched unions decline; I’ve watched jobs go overseas; I’ve watched big business take over and run this country and take us to the bottom. We’re only 10 percent organized in Missouri, but apparently we’re so important that they have to try to stomp us out every year in the legislature. Stomp the rest out and you won’t have guys like me who are going to stand up for people’s rights and job safety and decent wages and benefits. I just don’t understand why attacking working families is good for the state of Missouri or Illinois.
IBJ: One thing that does not seem to be doing well on the Missouri side is MODOT. They’re not getting the money they need and it seems like no one can figure out how to get that done.
Bond: People want good roads and bridges but they don’t want to pay for them. I think the users should pay for the roads. A gas tax makes the most sense to me. I would like to see a sales tax on gas to pay for the roads. We need it in the worst way. It would be good for the state; good for the economy. Eventually, we’re going to be forced to spend money on roads and bridges. Something has to happen. The legislators are not willing to do anything because they don’t want anyone to attack them for supporting a tax increase. That’s the kind of climate there is in Jefferson City.
IBJ: Your predecessor, Terry Nelson, always talked about Business 101. Do you have that same philosophy?
Bond: I do. We don’t look at labor-management as a confrontational relationship but as partners. That’s what’s so troubling about Right to Work. We have a great relationship with our contractors. And, for the government to step in and want to change that relationship is offensive. These contractors aren’t union contractors because we’re holding a gun to their heads. They’re union contractors because they want to be and we’ve got a good thing going.
IBJ: What do you see coming down the road?
Bond: I think the economy is going to be fine for the next three or four years. On state politics, we’re going to win. We have to. The good guys always win. So, I think the good guys are going to win this fight on Right to Work and the assault on prevailing wage. And we put our money where our mouth is. The Carpenters’ union is involved in numerous projects through our pension fund to get projects moving by providing gap financing, letters of credit and things of that sort. We did a lot of that during the recession to create some man hours and we’re continuing it. We’re part of the community. We spent over $2 million last year defending organized labor in Missouri. I would have much rather taken that $2 million and put it into development.
Q&A with Al Bond Jr., executive secretary-treasurer of the Carpenters’ District Council of Greater St. Louis and Vicinity
IBJ: How is the Carpenters’ union doing?