Troubled workers’ comp system shows need for single-payer health care


Illinois Single Payer Coalition

By Johanna Ryan with Anne Scheetz, MD
Johanna Ryan is a workers’ comp paralegal and a member of the Illinois Single-Payer Coalition.
Anne Scheetz, MD, a member of Physicians for a National Health Program and a founding member of the Illinois Single-Payer Coalition, cared for many patients with work-related health problems before her retirement from clinical practice.
Thursday, Sept. 15, 2016

Please sign up as a supporter, persuade your union to do the same, and make sure to get involved. References:
– Number of Illinois workers’ comp claims
– Gov. Bruce Rauner’s turn-around agenda
– Illinois occupational illness and injury statistics

In Illinois and around the nation, big business has labeled workers’ compensation a system in crisis. Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner has depicted it as a millstone around the necks of Illinois employers, who he claims are shelling out too much money to treat injuries that might not even be work-related. Rauner and other Republican governors have made “reforming” workers’ compensation a key part of their pro-business agenda.

However, any worker who has had to use the system lately knows the real “workers’ comp crisis” is too little health care, not too much. In Illinois, as in most states, your employer is required to carry standard workers’ comp insurance. But it’s private companies like Liberty Mutual, Travelers and AIG/Chartis that provide the coverage — and they would much rather pay lawyers to fight your claim than pay doctors to help you get well.

Under the system they’ve created, a worker hurt on the job is actually at higher risk of being denied medical care (or having their treatment cut short) than a worker who falls getting out of the bathtub at home.

We believe the best way to fight the growing attacks on workers’ compensation is to take private insurance companies out of the picture. A public, single-payer health care system, financed by taxes rather than insurance premiums, would accomplish these goals:

– Eliminate delays and outright denial of care and the resulting long-term adverse effects on workers’ health;
– Take medical decisions out of the hands of insurance companies and place them where they belong: in the hands of patients and their doctors; and
– Make prevention the preferred approach to work-related health problems by strengthening our public health infrastructure.

This is the type of health care system workers in almost every other wealthy industrialized nation take for granted. Here in the USA, it has been endorsed by the United Mine Workers, National Nurses United, the Machinists’ Union, Amalgamated Transit Union and many others. Single-payer health care is a pro-active, rather than a reactive, approach to workers’ health. It is an ambitious program, but workers deserve no less.



To get medical care in a workers’ comp case, it’s not enough to show it’s necessary. You must also prove it’s related to a workplace injury. This can be especially hard for “wear-and-tear” injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome or tendonitis, but it can also affect the worker who falls off a ladder or is struck by a forklift.

Private insurers love to litigate these cases – they know it has a chilling effect on the next worker who thinks about filing a claim. So they’re happy to spend several thousand dollars to have you examined by an employer-friendly medical specialist who will declare your work injury was just a “minor strain,” and your current symptoms are due to chronic arthritis, an old football injury or some other cause. No PT for you, pal, and definitely no surgery.

Rauner wants to make the standard for causation even higher, by requiring that an accident at work must be more than 50 percent responsible for an injury compared to all other causes. He also wants the records made by the treating physician — the one who actually knows the patient and who assessed the problem at the time of its occurrence — to count for less, and the opinions of those employer-friendly “independent medical examiners” to count for more.

Such changes taken together would gut workers’ compensation. Employers who are reckless with workers’ health will be even more confident they can get away with it. Workers’ risk of injury will increase, and their access to care and compensation will decrease.

In theory, workers’ comp expenses should give employers an incentive to make the workplace safer. It would be nice if that were the case. Unfortunately, it’s hard to find anyone in the field who believes it. Workers’ comp costs are much like the legal fines and penalties paid by drug companies — just a cost of doing business, which is never big enough to make them change their ways.

Employers are fond of moaning about the high cost of workers’ comp, and make a public scandal out of any individual case of cheating, real or alleged. But the real root of rising costs is litigation, not featherbedding or fraud. Private workers’ comp carriers have made Illinois a happy hunting ground for insurance defense lawyers, even as the number of workers’ comp claims in the past decade has shrunk by more than a third. The changes Rauner proposes would make this much worse.



Take the example of one injured worker we know: A woman who’s been waiting a year and a half for repair of her torn rotator cuff, precisely because of this type of dispute. She now has neck and back problems too, thanks to months of trying to use her trapezius muscles to compensate for her damaged shoulder. Ask any doctor: when she finally gets her surgery, the results will be worse than average on account of all that delay.

A single-payer health care system would cover the care she needed, with no questions asked. Her lawyers could concentrate on fighting to get her disability payments and an eventual cash settlement; we wouldn’t have to to fight over medical care. Our client could at least get her surgery and physical therapy, even if the workers’ comp carrier denied her weekly benefit checks. She could recover and be working a new job while she waited for her shoulder claim to settle.

Relying on workers’ comp claims filed by individuals (or their next of kin) to enforce respect for workplace safety just doesn’t make sense. Would we depend on lawsuits alone to keep poisoned or spoiled foods off the market? Workplace safety, just like food safety, is a public health issue. We need public enforcement bodies, with real power, and with real penalties for violations.

According to an AFL-CIO report, in 2015, Illinois only had enough Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspectors to inspect all job sites only once every 143 years. The average penalty for a fatality investigation, of which there were 56, was $8,553. This clearly falls short of what’s needed to enforce workplace safety standards and protect workers’ lives. (A few states, such as Washington, have public workers’ compensation insurance funds with some limited powers over workplace safety. Unions in Washington strongly support this system. When Liberty Mutual and other private insurers tried to enter the market a few years ago, labor fought the measure through a statewide referendum and won.)

Wouldn’t we all be better off under a single-payer system that guaranteed treatment for any illness or injury, without a legal battle over the cause? Such a system would not only be cheaper, but it would provide better care. There was a time when most specialists welcomed workers’ comp patients. However, given endless payment delays and litigation hassles, those days are fast becoming history.



Instead of seeing the best doctors, too many injured workers have to put up with pro-employer “occupational health” clinics, or third-rate providers who pad their bills with useless charges to compensate for long payment delays.

Imagine if everyone, from janitors to CEO’s, carried the same health insurance card! You would choose your own doctors and other care providers. No specialist would turn you away because of the type of insurance you had. You and your doctor – not your employer’s workers’ comp carrier, or any other insurance company, would make decisions about tests, surgery, physical therapy, medical equipment, and other care.

All care would be paid for by progressive taxes, and free at the point of service. Hospitals would not shut down in low-income neighborhoods if the residents had the same high-quality insurance as everyone else. No one would lose their health insurance through leaving a job, going on strike, or for any other reason.

Also, injured workers could get immediate care without having to prove to anyone exactly where, when or how they got hurt.

Workers’ comp lawyers (and we’d still need them) could concentrate on fighting for compensation – and we wouldn’t see clients dropping their claims or settling for pennies because they were desperate for medical care.

A strong public health system, the foundation on which primary care and specialty care must rest in order to be effective, would make protection of workers’ health a high priority.

That’s what a single payer system could offer all of us, union or nonunion. It sounds like a better way to us.

Unions making things better for the future

Scabby the Rat

A new restaurant, Twin Peaks, is coming to Warrenville, but it’s starting to be built mostly with out-of-state and non-signatory contractors. Members of IBEW Local 701 brought Scabby the Rat to the job site to alert other trades. Jennifer Rice/staff photographer

Jennifer Rice Managing Editor

By Jennifer Rice
Managing Editor
Thursday, Oct. 23, 2014
Email Jennifer Rice at: jen@foxvalley

WARRENVILLE — The driver of a pick-up truck said it best as he drove past protesting union members Oct. 22 and a Scabby the Rat inflatable which was put up outside a construction site.

“Lousy rats!” the driver yelled from his truck.

Twin Peaks, a new restaurant is coming to Warrenville, but it’s starting to be built mostly with out-of-state and non-signatory contractors. It’s housed in the old Stir Crazy restaurant at Diehl and Winfield roads.

Members from IBEW Local 701 were protesting Dave’s Electric for violating area standards.

“We’ll be out here as we need to be,” said IBEW Local 701 Business Representative/Membership Development Anthony Giunti.

He explained without Responsible Bidder language at the village or city level, it’s going to be a struggle for union members to work on projects.

“We’d love to see every village in DuPage County with a Responsible Bidder language, because it would cut down on this,” indicating the Scabby the Rat presence.

Scabby the Rat

Members of IBEW Local 701 were protesting Dave’s Electric Oct. 22 in Warrenville for violating area standards on the construction of a new Twin Peaks restaurant on Diehl and Winfield roads. Jennifer Rice/staff photographer

But it would also protect the public and cost less money in the long run through the trained union members working on the project.
DuPage County Joint Apprenticeship Training Committee IBEW Local 701 Training Director Henry Zurawski said his apprentices are worth it.
“We have five years of training; 8,000 hours. I have a $1.4 million annual training budget, which is all funded from membership — not taxpayer money,” Zurawski explained.

The construction is currently being done with non-union electrical. But that’s not to say things couldn’t change, and that what Giunti and others are hoping.

Several other Twin Peaks are scheduled to go up. If opening the lines of communication with general contractors now helps with future jobs, then the protest will be worth it.

“After you do something like this, you’d be surprised to find that the next ones are good. And that’s what we’re shooting for,” said IBEW Local 701 Business Representative/Membership Development Bob Perreault.

Even if signatory electricians don’t get in on the job, they are hoping others do.

“We might get the security, fire alarms or the cameras — we still have a shot at those,” Giunti explained.

Non-union labor triggers union protest

By Fox Valley Labor
News staff reports
Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014

CHICAGO — Multiple building trades visited the offices of Vivify Services and Michigan Avenue Real Estate Group to protest outside their offices on West Madison Street in Chicago Sept. 3.

LiUNA's Scabby the Rat protest
Photo courtesy of LiUNA
Scabby the Rat and the Fat Cat use their presence to shame Vivify Construction for building non-union in Chicago.

LiUNA's Scabby the Rat protest
Photo courtesy of LiUNA
Inflatables from several building trades line West Madison Avenue.

LiUNA's Scabby the Rat protest
Photo courtesy of LiUNA
Union members from several different building trades came together in solidarity to shame Michigan Real Estate for employing Vivify Construction to building non-union in Chicago.

Across the country, Fight for $15 continues

Chicago's Fight for $15
Pat Barcas/staff photographer
This McDonald’s worker was one of 51 arrested Sept. 4 after engaging in civil disobedience for blocking the streets in front of two McDonald’s locations in Chicago. The Fight for $15 was part of a national day of action.

By Pat Barcas
Staff writer
Thursday, Sept. 11, 2014
Email Pat Barcas at

CHICAGO — The Fight for $15 movement has been ramping up protests since last year, and fast food workers certainly garnered attention Sept. 4 when 51 were arrested in Chicago as part of a national day of action.
The workers were arrested engaging in civil disobedience for blocking the streets in front of two McDonald’s locations in the city. They are fighting to win $15 per hour and a union without retaliation.

“We’re going to have walkouts all over the country,” said Kendall Fells, organizing director of the movement called Fight for $15. “There are going to be workers who don’t show up to work or who walk off the job at 12:01 a.m. or at noon.”

The Fight for 15 campaign reported that 436 fast-food workers had been arrested nationwide on the day of the protest, which came a day after President Obama highlighted their campaign in a Labor Day speech: “All across the country right now there’s a national movement going on made up of fast-food workers organizing to lift wages so they can provide for their families with pride and dignity. There is no denying a simple truth. America deserves a raise. Give America a raise,” said Obama in Milwaukee Sept. 1. “You know what, if I were looking for a job that lets me build some security for my family, I’d join a union. If I were busting my butt in the service industry and wanted an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work, I’d join a union . . . I’d want a union looking out for me.”

Chicago's Fight for $15
Pat Barcas/staff photographer
The Fight for $15 is a union-backed campaign where workers are demanding $15 an hour wage and union recognition. Supporters, above, shame big fast-food companies like McDonald’s over low pay and irregular hours.

The action came on the heels of a July convention where fast food workers vowed to do whatever it takes to win $15 and the right to form a union. Clergy, elected officials and community supporters, including Alderman Sawyer of the 6th ward and Alderman Muñoz of the 22nd ward, joined workers and union representatives from Brazil, Colombia, and Argentina the strike lines in front of McDonald’s, Burger King, and Wendy’s restaurants.

Inspired by the actions of fast-food workers, Service Employees International Union home care workers have also decided to join the nationwide movement for higher pay and better rights on the job. In several cities, including Chicago, both non-union and union home care workers stood with fast food workers.

‘Those killed on the job – we’re connected to them’

74th annual All Faiths Memorial Service
Pat Barcas/staff photographer
Rev. Gavin Quinn remembers union members lost on the job during the past year at the Sept. 6 All Faiths Memorial Service at Our Lady of Mount Carmel church in Darien.

By Pat Barcas
Staff writer
Thursday, Sept. 11, 2014
Email Pat Barcas at

CHICAGO — “When someone dies suddenly, it squeezes you pretty hard. We come together today as a people, to be with each other and celebrate life, not death. To know that you will be with that person eventually again,” said Rev. Gavin Quinn Sept. 6 at Our Lady of Mount Carmel church in Darien.

Quinn served as celebrant to the 74th annual All Faiths Memorial Service, sponsored by the Chicago and Cook County Building Trades Council. Labor leaders, union members and their families gathered to remember those members lost on the job during the past year.

Remembered were members Gary Beno, Gustavo Briceno Jr., Russell Bull, Jacob Harper, Bruce Kamp, Martin Moreno, Jose Tafoya, Joseph Vandenover, and David Varga.

“It’s important to remember what Jesus said at the Last Supper,” said Quinn. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Have faith in God, have faith in me.”

Tom Villanova, president of the Cook County Building Trades Council served as a lector along with Ralph Affrunti, secretary treasurer, and Brian Glynn, vice president.

Quinn joked that the reason the services for Cook County members are held at a church in DuPage was due to union disagreements.

“We have the mass in DuPage because the two other churches made mistakes — they used non-union glaziers and roofers,” said Quinn.

The annual mass was first offered in 1941 by Rev. Joseph Donahue.
“Isn’t it wonderful, 74 years ago father Joe started doing this,” said Quinn. “I was 1-year-old. “It’s always good to get together. Those killed on the job — we’re connected to them. It’s all about love. We have to be there for each other.”

The Lord’s prayer was recited along with hymns before Communion was offered.

Final prayers were offered to oppressed workers around the world, for the victims of Sept. 11, for the conflict in Syria, for the safety of those who serve in the armed forces, for those who are suffering from a serious illness in the trades, for tradesmen tragically killed on the job site, and for deceased men and women in the building trades.

The CFL honors workers, labor movement

Chicago Federation of Labor President Jorge Ramirez
Pat Barcas/staff photographer
The Chicago Federation of Labor’s second annual Labor Day Luncheon fires up labor leaders and various dignitaries after discussions turned to workers’ ongoing labor struggles and fights.

By Pat Barcas
Staff writer
Thursday, Sept. 4, 2014
Email Pat Barcas at

CHICAGO — The who’s who of labor came out to show worker support and celebrate Labor Day at the second annual Labor Day Luncheon, hosted by the Chicago Federation of Labor.

The Aug. 27 event at IUOE Local 399 proved that Chicago is a labor powerhouse, bringing together, in the same room, CTU President Karen Lewis, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Gov. Pat Quinn, Illinois AFL-CIO head Michael Carrigan, CFL President Jorge Ramirez, and SEIU Local 1 President Tom Balanoff, among many others.

“The struggles that workers faced in the 19th century are still prevalent nearly 130 years later,” said Ramirez. “Today, full time workers are living at or below the poverty level because they hold minimum wage jobs. If the minimum wage would have kept up with inflation, it would be almost $22 per hour.”

CFL Secretary-Treasurer Bob Reiter reminded the crowd of 750 that Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner doesn’t know the values learned from being a part of the working class.

“Working people do not exert themselves day after day just to buy the cheapest thing on the shelf for their family. I find it offensive that an out of touch billionaire can go on television and flaunt a work jacket that he wears on campaign stops that has not seen the heat of the sun, falling snow, and driving rain, and you should too,” he said. “He panders to working class people when he talks about his $18 watch, and I find that offensive. Does he really believe that any of us take pride in owning something cheap when we have the capacity and the means to purchase something nicer?”

Chicago Federation of Labor Labor Day Luncheon
Pat Barcas/staff photographer
Gov. Pat Quinn, sporting his Jackie Robinson West shirt, takes a moment to shake hands and chat with CTU President Karen Lewis as Illinois AFL-CIO President Michael Carrigan listens in during the 2nd annual CFL Labor Day Luncheon.

Ramirez railed against corporations who don’t respect their workers.

“In the 1890s, people were fighting to shorten the work day to eight hours to have more time to spend with their families. Today, corporations are using these laws to escape responsibilities to their employees by reducing them to part-time status, cheating workers out of health care benefits, paid sick and vacation time, and retirement packages,” he said.

“Capitalism without a conscience needs to stop. Corporations increasing profits at the expense of their workers is not how to thank workers for their labor,” Ramirez explained.

Chicago’s Pullman site could become a national park

Chicago's Pullman strike
Pat Barcas/staff photographer
Bob Reiter, secretary-treasurer of the Chicago Federation of Labor knows Chicago is an industrial town and would like nothing more than to see the Pullman rail car factory become a national park.

By Pat Barcas
Staff writer
Thursday, Sept. 4, 2014
Email Pat Barcas at

CHICAGO — The historic Pullman rail car factory on Chicago’s southeast side is getting closer than ever to becoming the nation’s 402nd national park.

About 400 people made their way through a part of the factory on Labor Day to celebrate the labor heavy site, which tells the story of the modern U.S. labor and civil rights movements, as well as the Pullman Strike. A reenactment was performed of the “greatest strike in U.S. history,” which occurred 120 years ago when 4,000 workers went on strike at the factory to protest a reduction in wages.

“When you talk about labor history, you talk about the history of our city, of our state, and of our country,” said Bob Reiter, secretary-treasurer of the Chicago Federation of Labor, who spoke at the event.

“Chicago is an industrial town. These things that make our economies move — it’s our building infrastructure that allows us to build factories, that allows us to pay taxes so we can pay our teachers to teach our children and keep the community great.”

George Pullman originally bought land on the site for his Pullman Palace Car Company. He created a model community for his workers, including housing with gas and running water, a large hotel, churches, and a market square with indoor shopping.

According to the National Park Conservation Association, during the economic panic of 1893, Pullman reduced workers’ wages without reducing rents, resulting in the strike, disrupting rail traffic nationwide and resulting in the deaths of at least 30 workers at the hands of U.S. Marshals.

Congress passed legislation creating a national Labor Day holiday days after the strike ended. On Aug. 21, south side residents joined National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis, and city, county, state and federal elected officials to discuss the pathway for preserving the Pullman story by including it in the National Park System.

Director Jarvis listened to the public feedback and said he would recommend the creation of a new national park site to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell for an Antiquities Act designation by President Obama — which would make Pullman the 402nd national park and securing it as a mecca for labor.

“The ecosystem of our society revolves around working people and that’s what this factory symbolizes. From the people who laid the brick to the people who move the cars in and out of the factory, we need to preserve that history, and we need to preserve the dignity of workers,” said Reiter.

Holmes doesn’t want a world with no skilled labor

Sen. Linda Holmes
Pat Barcas/staff photographer
Sen. Linda Holmes thanked the leadership and members of unions for their dedication to the workforce, which impacts lives everywhere.

By Pat Barcas
Staff writer
Thursday, Sept. 4, 2014
Email Pat Barcas at
View speech at Fox Valley Labor News YouTube Channel

AURORA — As the still yet unresolved Illinois pension issue drags on, State Sen. Linda Holmes said she’s going to bat for organized labor in the state.

“It’s a simple black and white issue. A group of people collectively bargained. Promises were made. They did their part. You don’t break a promise. It’s that simple. It was a matter of what is right, and what is wrong,” she said. “I will be back at the table negotiating, and will continue to fight on your behalf simply because it just makes sense. It economically makes sense that we’re out there supporting you, and you guys are making a good living wage.”

Holmes, who is running unopposed this fall, hosted her annual labor breakfast Aug. 28 at Pipers Banquets in Aurora. She is vice-chair of the labor committee in Springfield and said a non-resolution of the pension crisis means people simply don’t know what to count on.

“I was the one dissenting vote on the Pension Conference Committee. The toughest part for people is not knowing,” she said. “It’s a very scary thing, especially if they are close to retirement. That’s the terrifying part. I can ensure you as this comes up again, I will make sure to be an active voice in this.”

She offered a big thank you to her working constituents as the Labor Day holiday approached.

“I celebrate working men and women who made this country what it is. What we’re doing is celebrating what you do because it impacts every minute of our day,” she said.

She imagined a world without skilled labor.

“Think of how we would function without your part in what you do. From the minute we wake up, looking at the alarm taking electricity to function, to taking a shower thanks to plumbers and pipefitters, to the house you live in, putting a roof over your head, all the construction that goes into building that house — think of how every one of you affects every little bit of our daily life, and what would we do without that,” she said. “I don’t want to live in a world without a skilled plumber, or skilled electricians.”

Holmes said a big problem now is people think modern infrastructure can be achieved without using skilled labor.

“Do you really want your houses built, your roads built, your bridges built without someone who is skilled in their trade? We absolutely don’t,” she said.

Labor scholarship helps send student to Drake University

Woodruff Johnson & Palermo Labor Scholarship
Jennifer Rice/staff photographer
Mitch Feltz was awarded a $2,500 scholarship made possible by the Woodruff Johnson & Palermo Labor Scholarship. He is attending Drake University to study journalism. Feltz is pictured with his mother Lisa, and attorneys Jay Johnson, left, and Casey Woodruff, right.

By Jennifer Rice
Managing Editor
Thursday, Sept. 4, 2014
Email Jennifer Rice at

AURORA — Coming from a working class family, Mitchell Feltz (Mitch to his friends) understands and appreciates the value of hard work — something his father Dale exemplifies as a member of Teamsters Local 673.

And because Dale is a union member in the Fox Valley, his son was able to apply for, and be awarded, a $2,500 Woodruff Johnson & Palermo Labor Scholarship. (The law firm was not involved in the selection process for scholarship recipients.)

The injury law firm created the scholarship in 2012 to give back to organized labor and to the Fox Valley community — which has helped make the firm the largest injury law firm in the greater Fox Valley area.
Because the scholarship is a labor-minded scholarship, in order to be considered, one of the criteria was Mitch had to have a parent who is a union member.

Dale hasn’t known anything other than working in a union. In his younger years, he worked at Barber-Greene in Aurora, then quickly moved to Caterpillar. In 1988 he started with Colonial Bread and with the Teamsters. The company is now called Cement Transport Company, which is owned by Kennedy Trucking, and it’s keeping him very busy.

“With all the cement paving going on I-90, I’m driving all the time,” he explained. He’s “100 percent for union,” because they help blue-collar workers. And now being in a union is helping his son, Mitch.

The younger Feltz started classes at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa Aug. 25. He wants to study journalism. Even though it may be 300 miles from his hometown of Bristol, he’s got lots of friends already there, and those friends are upperclassmen from Marmion Academy.

In his junior year at Marmion, an upperclassman talked of going to Drake. “He had great things to say about Drake,” Mitch explained.

An overnight orientation at Drake sealed the deal for him. “It was a really neat experience. I had a freshman take me around the campus and I got a wonderful perspective from students who have already been there,” Mitch said.

During his journey to find the right college for him, Mitch also looked at other colleges like Marquette and Loyola, but Drake overruled them all.

Mitch’s mom Lisa also like Marquette, due to its closeness to home, but she stressed it was a choice her son had to make.

“He had to make this commitment and with that comes tuition. He knew he had to strive to get some scholarships because we can’t financially help him fully with college,” Lisa added.

Mitch said he was “relieved and overjoyed” to hear he was the recipient of the Woodruff Johnson & Palermo Labor Scholarship.

Attorney Casey Woodruff said the law firm is always excited to learn who the recipient is. “We’re always pleased to see the benefits of being a union member.”

Even though Mitch played football and ran track at Marmion, he won’t be pursuing sports at Drake, but you’ll be sure to find him on some intramural leagues at college.

Labor and scouting, a brotherhood of unity, leadership

UA General President William P. Hite
Pat Barcas/staff photographer
Save the date for Jan. 20, 2015, when UA General President William P. Hite will be awarded the AFL-CIO George Meany Award in Chicago.

By By Robert F. Melko
Plumbing Council of Chicagoland and 2015
Labor & Scouting Event Chairman
Thursday, Sept. 4, 2014

CHICAGO – I am pleased to announce the Boy Scouts of America Chicago Council has partnered with the Plumbing Council of Chicagoland to honor UA General President William P. Hite as the recipient of the AFL-CIO George Meany Award on Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2015 at the Sheraton Hotel & Towers in Chicago. Information can be found at and questions can be directed to the Plumbing Council of Chicagoland at 312-263-6612 or by email at

There is a growing skills gap crisis facing the construction trades sector and the many other critical fields relating to our industry including engineering and manufacturing. The latest economic figures estimate nearly 1.6 million new skilled workers will be needed over the next decade in order to replace our retiring workforce.

Yet finding eager and qualified apprentices to enter into our construction trades presents our industry with quite a challenge. Recruitment numbers in the Chicago and surrounding suburban counties are at an all-time low. By my own estimate as the UA Local 130 Joint Apprenticeship Committee Co-Chair, our plumbing apprentice numbers are significantly down by more than two-thirds this year. Plus, our efforts to reach kids at the high school level are often thwarted by well-intentioned yet uninformed guidance counselors trying to boost their college acceptance rates even though 75 percent of these students never complete their degree, despite the astronomical costs of a higher education. Thinking “outside the pipe” is our only viable option in this matter.

The Boy Scouts of America has a long standing relationship with the American Labor Movement. These two entities share many common goals, including the pursuit of preparedness, economic justice and the value of hard work. This is especially valid when it comes to training the next generation with the critical science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) skills and apprenticeship education needed to boost our nation’s competitiveness. It’s also evident in the merit badges of our diverse labor trades and their ability to foster a genuine interest in construction industry careers among today’s youth and tomorrow’s construction leaders.

Unfortunately, too many of our current union leaders and business labor partners have lost touch with the Boy Scouts. Many of our merit badges and skilled labor lessons have simply been collecting dust. Our involvement in Boy Scouts career days and STEM exploration events are almost non-existent. And our mentoring of today’s Boy Scouts could use some work.

But all of that can change by partnering and exploring new avenues of learning. By working together, we can have a profound impact on our nation’s economic prosperity.

Through the joint efforts of the Plumbing Council of Chicagoland and the Boy Scouts of America Chicago Area Council, we are re-kindling a spark that will hopefully ignite a much needed flame for the construction trades and in turn close the skills gap shortage.

UA General President William P. Hite
Photo courtesy of the Plumbing Council of Chicagoland
Plumbing Contractors Association of Chicago Director Brian Wilk (Bishop Plumbing) leads a delegation of local Boy Scouts around the UA’s Instructor Day training facilities at Washtenaw College in Ann Arbor, Mich.

The AFL-CIO Executive Council established the George Meany Award in 1974 to recognize union members who have made a significant contribution to the youth of their communities by volunteering in the programs of the Boy Scouts of America. The award is named for the AFL-CIO’s first president, who demonstrated strong support to Scouting.

The George Meany award has not been bestowed upon a Chicago labor leader for many decades. But if this event reaches the level of success and notoriety I know it will, UA General President Hite — who is a former Boy Scout and Sea Scout and native of the Chicago area, will be the new start of a long list of labor leaders to receive this prestigious recognition. More importantly, it will re-connect our construction trade industries with the Boy Scouts of America in a profound way that will benefit both organizations.

Already, we are seeing how this skilled labor and scouting event will reap rewards. The local Boy Scouts Council in Michigan recently invited by the Plumbing Council of Chicago to attend the UA Instructor’s 61st Annual Training Program at Washtenaw College in Ann Arbor. Not only did the scouts present the colors at the opening ceremony, but they toured the campus facilities and spoke directly with contractors, instructors, union leaders, industry professionals and apprentices as they participated in hands-on training to explore plumbing and pipefitting as potential career options. Tellingly, one of the scouts even commented, “this was the best event I have ever been forced to attend.”

The launch of this inaugural event and re-discovered partnership with the Boy Scouts will allow us to maximize our already successful Boy Scout merit badge programs in Plumbing, Welding and American Labor. I am excited to announce the research of an HVAC merit badge is currently in the works.

I would like to invite everyone interested in learning more about the genuine partnership between the Boy Scouts of America and our construction trades to support our inaugural “Celebration of Labor and Scouting Unity” gala in Chicago for Hite. Tickets, commemorative book ads and sponsorship opportunities are ready for purchase.

Robert Baden-Powell, a lieutenant-general in the British Army, writer, and founder of the Scout Movement said, “The secret of getting successful work out of your trained men lies in one nutshell — in the clearness of the instructions they receive.” And to that, I would respond, “Let us clearly instruct today’s scouts into becoming tomorrow’s apprentices. They represent our future. All we have to do now is to show them the way.”