(and other important lessons learned from pension reform)
When SMACNA CEO Vince Sandusky and I made our remarks at the Council of Chapter Representatives’ meeting last month it wasn’t clear if pension reform was going to pass in Congress or not.
It was a roller coaster ride of highs and lows! Because of our hard work and persistence, pension reform did pass during the lame-duck session of Congress. There is more work to do next year, but I am thrilled we got what we did. I want to celebrate our success, and I also want to look at some of the lessons we learned.
Our plan Solutions Not Bailouts wasn’t easy to negotiate and it wasn’t easy to get final Congressional action. The issue was complex and the solutions offered involved some hard choices. In the end, we got two of the three main pieces of the Solutions report, including the most difficult one. There also are some significant lessons that SMACNA contractors need to remember to continue our success on Capitol Hill! Here’s what we learned:
- Legislative success doesn’t come overnight. We worked almost two years to get labor-management agreement on reform and then worked another two years to get a major part of it and we’re not finished yet.
- Labor and management working together is a really powerful tool in a divided Congress.
- Persistence is vital. There were many times during the process when we thought reform was out of the question, but we kept up the effort and it paid off. What if we had quit when we thought the situation was hopeless?
- Local connections are crucial on Capitol Hill. Members of Congress and their staff repeatedly told us they needed to hear from stakeholders at the local level. SMACNA’s Capitol Hill office did the education and the footwork, but our contractor members hold the real power when we are in the trenches.
- Some of you had great connections, but we learned we need more of you who can reach out to legislative staff and members of Congress on short notice.
- Our PAC has power! The key to getting where we need to go on many issues is to elect the right members of Congress in the first place and then getting to know them. Getting Congress to understand the issues from the employer’s point of view is critical. That is what it takes to move the ball in Washington, D.C.
I was impressed during this process with how many members of Congress, Republicans and Democrats, are open to the position of the union contractor!
So, thank you for all your work and certainly take time to celebrate. Then take a moment to regroup and get ready for the next important phase of pension reform. We have strong support from congressional leadership to get the job done in the next congress.
Remember the most important lesson we learned: Never, never give up!
Thomas A. Szymczak