April 15, 2021
Don Finn is the business manager for IBEW Local 134.
Here in Illinois, labor and industry are working together to build up the economy, create jobs and spur innovation.
Before the pandemic, we hosted a training facility tour of IBEW/NECA Local 134 with Illinois state legislators, 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 construction and retrofitting needs of Illinois industry. Bringing these groups together is evidence of how our cooperation is putting people back to work.
At the start of this decade, Illinois was hit hard by the recession, with construction taking the brunt of the blow. Construction workers and their employers need investment to get back on the job —and the biopharmaceutical industry responded. In Illinois — both upstate and downstate — working families have depended on a thriving biopharmaceutical industry to put skilled craft workers to work.
The pandemic decimated construction work in the early months, and it has been a tough grind for our members. Now that vaccines and treatments are in the pipeline, we can find hope for a recovery. It is also the case that many of our members find themselves at work in biopharmaceutical research facilities, helping to build the labs and manufacturing sites where treatments and COVID—19 vaccines are produced.
The biopharmaceutical industry has continually relied on the skill of our members. A recent study of construction spending in Illinois sponsored by the Pharmaceutical Industry Labor- Management Association (PILMA) showed that the biopharmaceutical industry spent over $886 million in capital construction spending on industry projects, yielding nearly 1.8 million hours of work worth an estimated $31.9 million in union earnings for skilled craft union members between 2012 and 2017.
As the business manager of IBEW Local 134, I work with an excellent team to prepare our members to meet and exceed industry standards. We are continually training our members to learn the latest technology and cutting-edge techniques, all privately funded. This means that biopharmaceutical companies have a ready pool of skilled construction workers to build and maintain facilities where medical discoveries are made and manufactured.
This gleaming example of workforce development here in Illinois provides other benefits as well: apprentices earn while they learn and incur zero debt for their education. They graduate from their apprenticeships entering the workforce making more than $80,000 on average.
We are fortunate that Illinois legislators recognize the importance of creating a foundation for business to thrive and invest in new and existing infrastructure here in Illinois. We must be mindful that this is a policy-sensitive economy, and efforts to hinder innovation will cost union jobs at the construction site of Illinois biopharmaceutical companies.
The biopharmaceutical industry requires exacting standards for its research and manufacturing facilities. Companies that invest in Illinois, such as Astellas and CSL Bearing, whose recent expansion efforts were built with project labor agreements, have realized that hiring union contractors is good business since they are putting the best-trained, safest and most productive workers on their capital construction projects. Hiring union workers means that the job will be done on time, on budget and right the first time.
Our members take pride in building and retrofitting facilities in which scientists could one day discover the cure for cancer or Alzheimer’s. Our members’ hard work not only earns them a paycheck, but also the knowledge that they have made a difference in the quality of life for Americans and those throughout the world. It’s vital that we maintain an environment that supports industry and the jobs and medical discoveries that come with it.