Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo’s address to North America’s Building Trades Unions in Washington DC on April 18, 2018
Governor Gina Raimondo addressed over 3,000 building trades leaders from across the United States at the annual NABTU legislative conference in Washington DC earlier today.
Here is the full text off her speech:
Thank you! I love having the opportunity to spend time with people who build things.
Thank you Sean McGarvey. I am so grateful for your friendship and support, and for inviting me back to speak here once again. Brent Booker, thank you for your leadership and for everything you do to support America’s tradesmen and tradeswomen. Terry O’Sullivan, you’re incredible – I’m so thankful for our partnership.
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Armand Sabitoni – the pride of Rhode Island! I could not ask for a better friend or supporter. You are a champion for the building trades and you deserve so much credit for all of the exciting development that’s happening back home in our small state.
And to my own local leaders: Michael Sabitoni, Tim Byrnes, and Scott Duhamel, thank you for everything you’ve done to strengthen Rhode Island’s middle class. We’re not done yet. Let’s keep going, and let’s keep building.
Rebuilding the Middle Class Deal
For decades, there was a deal in America: if you worked hard and did what was expected of you, then you could raise a family with dignity and security. You could own a home, save for retirement, help your children pay for school, and even take time to visit beautiful beaches like the ones we have in Rhode Island!
In recent years, though, that “deal” has come under attack. There are powerful forces in America that have been working to ensure that a privileged few do well, without any concern for what happens to American workers.
In my state, the building trades got crushed by the recession. As recently as 2012, nearly one out four Rhode Islanders in the building trades were unemployed. When I was running for Governor, I would talk to tradesmen and tradeswomen. They’d been out of work three months, four months, nine months, a year. They were losing their homes. Losing their marriages. Losing their pride.
We had to do something. Back in 2014, across Rhode Island, there weren’t any jobs for laborers, but there was so much work to do.
- We had acres of land in downtown Providence that was just sitting there zoned and parceled but undeveloped for nearly a decade;
- We had the nation’s worst roads and bridges;
- And it had been more than a generation since Rhode Island made a meaningful, statewide investment in school construction.
We had to do something… and when I took office – thanks in large part to the support I had from the Building Trades – state government got back into the business of building thing.
Rebuilding RI: Cranes in the Sky
First, we focused on getting cranes into the sky and started a new program to spark development. Since 2015, the Rebuild Rhode Island program has supported 28 projects – totaling 3.3 million square feet – and it’s helped support 6,400 direct and indirect construction jobs across Rhode Island. Bricklayers and electrical workers and painters and operating engineers are back on the job. And we’ve cut red tape to keep development moving and keep people working.Now, when people walk around Providence and other parts of my state, they’re looking up at a changing skyline and talking about the new construction and what it can bring to our city and state.
Rebuilding RI: Fixing our Roads and Bridges
Next, we set out to fix our roads and bridges. With support from the Building Trades and the business community, Rhode Island passed a comprehensive, 10-year, $4 billion road plan. In just the first two years of that plan, we’ve already started work on 32 bridges and helped create nearly 3,500 construction jobs.
This one’s personal for me: When my kids were younger, my husband and I would take them to soccer practice just over the border in Massachusetts. There was a bridge at the border. That bridge made me so mad. The Massachusetts side was in great shape: the road was smooth, the lanes were well marked. But when we drove back into Rhode Island, you could literally feel exactly where the state line was. We started work on that bridge last year and it reopened a week before Christmas. We tried to get a bunch of iron-workers to the bridge for a ribbon cutting, but we couldn’t get anyone there: they were all at a Christmas party celebrating a full year of work.
Our hard work’s paying off. There are more construction jobs in Rhode Island right now than any time in the last decade. Our statewide unemployment rate was the highest in America in 2014, the year before I took office. Today, it’s under five percent and there are more jobs in Rhode Island right now than ever before. But we need to keep going.
Rebuilding RI: Once-in-a-Generation Investment to Fix Our Schools
Earlier this year, schools across my state had to close and send students home. All across Rhode Island, there are teachers putting trash bins in the middle of the classroom to collect water dripping from leaky ceilings.
Our school buildings get a failing grade, and that’s not acceptable. And it’s not just Rhode Island:
- In Washington State, one-third of students attend schools built before seismic construction standards were adopted;
- In Santa Maria-Bonita California, teachers report classroom temperatures sometimes reach 90 degrees;
- And less than half of the schools in Oklahoma – in the heart of tornado country – have tornado shelters.
Right after I was sworn in, I ended our state’s freeze on school construction. And I added funding for high priority projects in my first budget. Because of that, we’ve been able to fix a handful of our worst schools, including one in Pawtucket. It was a 100-year-old building, and you knew it the minute you walked in the door. Today, because we came together and made an investment, it’s bright. It’s clean. It’s got a new library. And it’s been totally rebuilt and wired for the 21st century.
Attendance is up. Disciplinary problems are down. There isn’t a parent in Rhode Island who wouldn’t be proud to send their kid there.
We need to keep going. I’m working this year to make a once-in-a-generation investment in our schools. Together, with the 39 cities and towns in my state, I’m pushing for a $1 billion investment over the next five years to fix our public schools. It’ll be good for our kids, and it’ll be good for the plumbers and pipe-fitters who will have consistent work.
National Public Investment in National Public Infrastructure
When we rebuild our schools, when we rebuild our roads and when we add to our skyline in Rhode Island, we’re going to protect the prevailing wage. Attempts to water down Davis-Bacon are fool-hearty and a slap in the face to working families. Public investments should lift up local communities and the families that live in them, not tear them down.
I’m doing everything I can to rebuild Rhode Island, and I’ll keep doing everything I can. But here’s the thing: States can’t do it all by themselves. The administration talks a big game when it comes to infrastructure. A trillion dollars. If it’s real, count me in – but let’s do it the right way. States can’t afford to pay that bill without federal support and public-private partnership will only take us so far.
America needs a national public commitment to national public infrastructure.
We don’t need to build walls. We need to build bridges… and schools… and airports… and seaports… and water treatment facilities… and off-shore wind farms like the one we have in Rhode Island!
Conclusion: Opportunity for Rhode Islanders
I ran for Governor – and I have every intention of running again – because I’m committed to expanding opportunity for every hardworking family that wants to get ahead in Rhode Island.
That’s why I’m proud to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the Building Trades to invest in America, to invest in job training and apprenticeships, and to give everyone who’s willing to work for it the chance to secure a middle-class life.
At every turning point in our nation’s history, working men and women have put shovels in the ground and changed the country’s landscape. We are a great nation because you’ve built us, you’ve rebuilt us and when we face uncertainty, you build us up again. I am so grateful for your friendship, for your support, and – most importantly – for the sacrifices you and your union brothers and sisters have made for this nation that we all cherish.
Thank you very much.