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Q&A with Al Bond Jr., Executive Secretary-Treasurer of the St. Louis-Kansas City Carpenters Regional Council

        IBJ: Were you surprised by the vote in August against Right to Work in Missouri?

p06 Bond    Bond: I didn’t expect to win that big. I was hoping we could win by 20 percent and kind of cut the head off that snake but we actually won by 34 percentage points. We only lost a couple counties and they were by slim margins.
    IBJ: Do you think the legislature has gotten the message?
    Bond: I certainly hope so. If you pass a law and then we get 310,000 signatures on petitions and we get it on the ballot and the people of Missouri speak and almost 70 percent of the people in this state oppose it, you’ve got to have a lot of nerve to go to Jefferson City and try to pass it through the legislature again.
    IBJ: I expected it to come down to an urban versus rural vote but you won statewide. How did you do that?
    Bond: There was a lot of out-of-state money that came in on the other side but it was amazing how many people really understood what it meant to the economy. The voters got it. They understood that this was nothing but a race to the bottom; that it would lower wages; that it would hurt our tax base; and that it would hurt job opportunities. The average family in Right to Work states sees their income decreased by $8,700 a year. Our message was pretty straightforward. We just told the truth. We stayed consistent. The whole country was watching. I got calls from people across the country that said, “Wow, it’s been so long since the little guy won.” You know, you’ve seen this wave in Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana where state legislatures made Right to Work a priority, hurting people’s wages and hurting their own economy. I feel there should be a strong middle class and why these people oppose that I just don’t understand. It just doesn’t make any sense to me.
    IBJ: Do you think this will have an effect beyond Missouri?
    Bond: I think what we’ve done is we’ve given working people in other states hope. We’ve offered to help any state or any group of people that want to get together and reverse Right to Work to be able to educate the citizens of their state.
    IBJ: How is the carpenters union doing?
    Bond: We’re looking for carpenters; looking for apprentices. We’re looking to bring in non-union carpenters who are out there working at the trade and would like to better their lives, join the union and get fair wages and good benefits.
    Our difficulty is bringing young people in because this last generation of kids that we all raised, we told them to go to college. They’re coming out of college with a bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree with a lot of debt and they’re getting offered $15 an hour or $16 an hour jobs with minimal benefits. The average age of our apprentices now is 28. I don’t know how many apprentices we have that have at least a bachelor’s degree who come to us and say, “I’m going to have to try something else. I can’t make a living and I’ve got to pay off my student debt.” We’re getting those people but we’re not getting them right out of high school and we should be.
    IBJ: What’s the general state of construction in metro St. Louis?
    Bond: It’s going well and we anticipate the next couple of years will be strong as well.
    IBJ: What are some of the major projects underway?
    Bond: We’re building the new Saint Louis University Hospital. That’s a $550 million project. We’re still working on multiple projects at the BJC Medical Campus. We anticipate the NGA project will start pretty soon. That’s almost a $2-billion-dollar project and we’re hoping that some local general contractors get that job. It’s down to three general contractors, two of which are local.
    Related to that project, we’re working with a company called Net Zero that wants to build homes around the NGA. It’s a Jefferson City company that builds insulated panels that are erected on site. They make exterior walls and roof systems. It’s unbelievable. They actually frame the walls; put plywood on them; and put them in a press. Then they shoot liquid Styrofoam into them.
    They’re planning to put solar panels on each house and that will probably cut the average utility cost of a traditional home by two thirds. There’s about three or four different plans you can pick from. These will be two story houses selling for about $250,000. They’ll look like 19th century homes but will have 21st century technology. The city has issued permits to build three display homes and we’re hoping to start breaking ground in the next couple of months. They have an option to buy 250 lots. We’re really excited about it.
    IBJ: What is the general outlook as we move forward?
    Bond: We’re pro-business. We’re pro-economic development. I’ve always said that what’s good for St. Louis is good for the carpenters and what’s good for the carpenters is good for St. Louis. I’ve said that for years and my predecessors felt the same way.

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