Forgive Greg Lalevee if he’s a little bit excited about the prospects for organized labor during President-elect Joe Biden’s administration. That’s what happens when a “union guy” is named as the labor secretary designee.
Lalevee, the business manager of International Union of Operating Engineers Local 825, said the designee — current Boston Mayor Marty Walsh — has ties with labor that go back generations.
“He’s the son of union laborer and he was a union laborer, so he’s going to understand building trade issues really well,” Lalevee said. “There were things in the present administration that, candidly, were taking hatchets to unions and some of the underpinnings of the laws that have existed for years. We’re confident that goes away.”
Lalevee said the initial words toward labor from Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris have been positive, too.
“I think what we’re going to have in the administration now is a real good understanding of what we’re all about and who we are and the greatest values we bring to construction: our training, which can’t be matched, and the fact that our workforce can be flexible.
“So, having that, and having somebody like Walsh who understands what we are, who we are and what we’re all about, is a good thing.”
Of course, understanding the value of labor and having money for the infrastructure projects that can be supported by labor may be two different things.
The COVID-19 pandemic obviously has impacted every budget.
“I think it’s fair to say that state, county and municipal governments have budget issues,” Lalevee said. “We haven’t really seen work roll out this year as fast as it usually does. Typically, we would have seen a lot more maintenance contracts come out in different places. We haven’t seen that yet.
“That’s not to say that they’re not going to come. But we’re getting a sense and a vibe that there’s a lot of thought going on about priorities — and we don’t know how high up the list in public budgets across the board construction might be. So, that’s a concern.”
Lalevee is hopeful that, when Biden takes office on Jan. 20 — and begins to work with a Democratically controlled Congress — things may open up a bit.
“There’s obviously a political divide in Washington about whether or not any kind of relief package should include money to prop up state (and) local governments,” he said. “Hopefully, that’s a divide that people can work through.”
And, hopefully, that means money for the biggest infrastructure project the area has ever seen: the Gateway Tunnel.
Despite its big cost, Lalevee feels there will be a push for the project.
The reason? People with an understanding of the importance and impact of the project figure to be found throughout the cabinet.
“You’ve got Marty Walsh at Labor — someone who is the mayor of Boston, a big city that relies on the Northeast Corridor being robust to keep its economy going,” Lalevee started. “Building in Boston has been robust the last 10 years.
“Then, there’s the designee for the secretary of commerce, Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo. She’s from another state that relies on the viability of the Northeast Corridor to keep their stuff going — and she’s a governor who did monster infrastructure packages.”
The list doesn’t end there, Lalevee said. The transportation secretary designee, former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, also is an ally. Lalevee said Buttigieg was a big proponent of extending the train line from Chicago to South Bend International Airport farther into South Bend.
“He’s someone who’s always speaking about not being so car-centric — and that our transportation systems need to be a little more rail-centric,” he said. “All of this makes me very optimistic that we’re going to see real projects coming — including the one that’s very near and dear to our hearts.”
Like everything else these days, there are no sure things, no signals to go by, no tea leaves to read. But, despite all this uncertainty, Lalevee sees hope.
“I don’t know a budget at any level that’s not suffering,” he said. “So, there are a lot of big questions. But getting money to the Northeast seems to be on the priority list. We’re hoping President-elect Biden can get that done.”