In a wide-ranging address June 10 at the Maritime Trades Department convention in Philadelphia, U.S. Rep. Donald Norcross (D-New Jersey) often returned to one key subject: good, union jobs.
A longtime electrician and onetime president of the South Jersey Building and Construction Trades Council before his election to Congress, Norcross also underscored his support for the U.S. maritime industry; emphasized the need for unity across the country; promoted workplace safety; and asked rank-and-file union members to recognize the pro-labor work of the Biden administration.
Norcross, who’s still a union member, pointed to his own family as a prime example of how union apprenticeships can be gateways to rewarding careers. He said he has three grown children: a doctor, a lawyer, and an electrician. Only the latter has paid off his house, the congressman said.
“College isn’t the only path” toward a good job, Norcross stated, and the various paths “are of equal value.”
One way to ensure availability of good jobs in the trades is by instituting project labor agreements (PLA), he said. President Biden earlier this year issued an executive order mandating that federally funded construction projects worth at least $35 million must be handled by workers covered by PLAs. Such agreements create and maintain good-paying jobs, promote local hiring and boost safety standards.
“PLAs don’t happen accidentally,” said Norcross, who serves on the House Armed Services Committee. “They happen because the stage has been set over years. But we know how important they are. They mean good wages, pensions, safety. It only happens because we collectively work together to put people in positions in public office who understand where we come from.”
He said that when traveling in an Armed Services Committee capacity, “when I meet the General Dynamics and Boeings and Lockheeds, I always ask to meet with the union president at each site. I want to hear what they have to say.”
Turning to maritime, Norcross said the wind energy sector holds great promise for various sectors of the industry. He also expressed his ongoing support for the Jones Act, and said the pandemic opened the public’s eyes regarding the importance of maritime.
“The supply chain does matter, doesn’t it?” he asked. “Buy American means we have a supply chain that we’re not going to (have) to worry about whether the Chinese are going to try to disrupt it. That’s as real as you are sitting here. It is unbelievable on a classified level what we see going on throughout our country. I think we’ve turned a corner; now, we need to make sure we do it. We start with Buy American and we make sure we have the skillsets back here at home.”
Speaking about both the maritime industry specifically and the U.S. workforce generally, Norcross added, “You don’t build an industry or lose it overnight…. People are beginning to understand you don’t just snap your fingers” and have a well-trained, reliable workforce in place.
Looking towards the midterms later this year, Norcross reminded the audience that Biden “uses the word ‘union’ proudly. This is a big deal.”
The congressman called for unity and said when it comes to union involvement in politics, “It’s not about what team you’re on. It’s about what we do: helping bring home a paycheck so they can take care of their family. If we get stuck in these (partisan) corners, it’s not a good outcome…. I’ve been on picket lines and nobody likes a fight more than me. But I was on the (Capitol) floor on January 6. That’s not my country. This is not a blue or red issue; this is an American issue as fundamental as anything we do.”