Interview with Ron Miller

Working Californians (WCA) supports and celebrates the tremendous work of business leaders, union activists, and hardworking people of California. Ron Miller, the Executive Secretary of the Los Angeles/Orange County Building & Construction Trades Council (“Building Trades”), has dedicated his leadership and service to promoting good working standards, wages, benefits and career opportunities for local communities. The Building Trades represents 140,000 skilled construction workers in 14 trades and 52 local affiliated unions. After assuming his position as Executive Secretary in 2012, Miller has led negotiations in Project Labor Agreements with public and private entities, such as the Los Angeles Unified School District and the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. We had the opportunity to briefly discuss his accomplishments as a longstanding union member and a proud Working Californian.

When did you get involved with the Building Trades? 

I first became involved with the Building Trades when I was the business representative for the Plumber’s Union. I think it is hard to be in a union and not be involved with the Building Trades because they are the voice of the construction trades. 

What are the objectives of the Building Trades? 

The Building Trades act as an advocate and voice on behalf of all the trades and council. When we all stand together, we are stronger and are able to get our message across effectively. 

Can you please provide some highlights of Building Trades that you are most proud of?

I am most proud of our involvement in the community which is centered on what we call “Project Labor Agreements.”  The Building Trades has been in support of many agreements. To name a few we have: the Metro Agreement, in which we cover all transportation projects under Measure R; LAUSD agreements that resulted in the building of 130 new schools; and hundreds of agreements with the Port of Los Angeles. All of these have a local hiring component, which puts our members to work, facilitates local community recruitment and provides careers for them. 

What specific aspects of the Union attracted you to become a committed union member and one of the current leaders of the Building Trades? 

When I was a business representative for the plumbers union our local was close in proximity to the Building Trades. In fact, much of our work was centered on supporting the Trades. In my time at the plumbers union, I have seen great value in the Building Trades, and how it provided strength in its membership. 

What are the different roles that you have played in the Union that have led you to serve as the Executive Secretary of the Building Trades? 

Like most people, I did not see myself ever becoming an Executive Secretary once I started my career in the Building Trades. I began as a plumber and then shifted my focus to sitting on various local union committees. I sat on the Executive Board of my local union and then went on to become the Business Representative. 

How has the Building Trades worked with the community to provide its members good living wages and a supportive working environment? 

From our union agreements with the community arise many opportunities to get into the local union pipeline, whether it is the plumbing unions, ironworker unions, or the electrical unions. Our agreements provide an individual living wages in which he can provide for his family and retire on a modest pension. Another benefit is the member participation—we are only as strong as our affiliates. Without their participation, the Building Trades would be nothing. One of the primary labor issues is wage inequality amongst women. However, in the Building Trades, the women make the same amount as the men in the Building Trades. Since women go through the same training, there is no reason they should not make the same wages. 

What are some examples in which the Building Trades has worked with the unions to socially impact families and the community? 

The Building Trades have worked with disadvantaged communities to break down barriers and provide individuals with career resources and opportunities. Many people do not realize how closely we work with local community groups—such as Youth Build, the Work Source Center and Los Angeles Urban League—to help individuals achieve their high school diploma or pass the GED so that they can gain a career in the Building Trades.

 How has the Building Trades supported you and your family? 

After finishing high school and spending a semester in community college, I decided to do away with education and, instead, get involved with the plumbing trade. But to my surprise, the trade required that I take classes. After finishing the plumber’s apprenticeship and working as a Journeyman for 10 years I decided I wanted to teach apprenticeship school, after pursuing my teaching credential I taught apprenticeship school for 10 years. From this experience, I was able to receive good benefits and healthcare for my family and send my children to school. It is rewarding to have former students of the apprenticeship reach out to you in appreciation for your contribution as their instructor and to watch them thrive as they attribute their success to the apprenticeship program. 

Aside from your work with the Union, how have you contributed to the greater community?

Before my involvement with the Union I participated in local community events with the local high school. However, now that I am in the Building Trades, I am immersed in community work because that is part of my job, which is not a bad thing at all. 

What issues are you most passionate about? 

I want good jobs for the local community. We [Building Trades] continuously deal with many bad contractors who profit on the back of working men and women. Our mission is to create good working standards and good pay, and to rid society of bad contractors along the way, or help them clean up their act to become better contractors. 

In what ways have you seen Working Californians (WCA) have a positive impact in the community and among unions in Southern California? 

WCA does a great job in – a lot like the Building Trades—being a voice for working men and women. They help shine the light on good politicians who stand up for us. They nurture their political careers because, as many know, politicians often move up the political ladder. And it is very important that we elect good people sitting on the local school boards or water commissions for we know they are the Senate, House and government leaders of tomorrow. A good example is current Governor Jerry Brown who started off as a local LA community college trustee many years ago. 

Any final thoughts you would like to share? 

I believe that WCA is a good group that helps inform the local community on how local politicians play a good role in standing up for working men and women. We are very fortunate in California to have a good foothold due to our political support here; however, we must keep in mind that we are one election away from having prevailing wages banned, as it is in other states. So, it is crucial to keep good politicians elected, who stand up for workingmen and women.