Local union boss is class act

Published 9:59 am Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Last week I had the honor of attending the classiest retirement celebration that I have ever witnessed.

The event was held at the Marshall University Memorial Student Center in Huntington, W.Va. Its purpose was to see Mr. Steve Burton off as he retires after 24 years of service heading up the Tri-State Building and Construction Trades Council.

The most noteworthy part of the ceremony for me was the love expressed by Mr. Burton for his wife, daughters, son-in-laws, grandchildren, and extended family members in attendance. This was probably because I had only seen Steve in a business forum over the years and had never witnessed him in a familial setting.

Email newsletter signup

In thinking more about it, Steve’s sentiment for his family should come as no surprise to me.

Steve Burton has always focused on the most important business at hand; clearly last night Steve›s family members were the most important people in the room and rightfully so.

In addition to “the most important people in the room” (Steve›s Family)  there was very impressive  attendance by many owners, contractors, and union labor dignitaries from all over the United States.

Perhaps some of you do not know exactly what I mean when I speak of owners, contractors and labor representatives, so let me explain each.

Owners are the companies that need a construction project completed.  Examples of these are: Marshall University and K-12 schools in our area that need new dormitories or academic buildings; industrial plants in the area such as American Electric Power, Marathon Refinery, Sunoco Chemical,  SunCoke, etc. that require maintenance work and expansions.

Contractors are the companies that hire the workforce (labor) to complete the capital projects for the owners.  Examples of contractors that work in our area are; Neighborgal Construction, WB Fosson Construction, BBL Carlton Construction, MiDeCon, Enerfab, Early Construction, Hatzel and Buehler, May Construction, J and H Erectors, and others.

Labor representatives are the union business agents that represent the men in blue jeans and work boots that actually do the hands-on skilled work on these projects. These labor representatives work through the details of the project with the owners and contractors to ensure that the projects are built safely, as specified, and are completed on schedule.

Now that I have explained how each part of this “three-legged stool” functions, I am sure that it is apparent to you that each of these three groups (owners, contractors and labor force) may have their own selfish agendas they want to meet on a project.

The fulfillment of these agenda items or take-aways by one group often directly conflicts with the agenda items or wants of one or both of the other two.

In some areas of the country union leaders, contractors and owners view each other as “the other side” or the “dark side” or a “necessary evil” needed to complete a project.

That is certainly not the case in this genuine, heartfelt, tripartite relationship here in the Tri-State. The leaders of these three groups here in the Ohio Valley recognized some time ago that in order for us to survive and complete successful projects, each needs to embrace the other two sides and make reasonable choices.

Not too many years ago, I seriously doubt that in some  areas of this country one could find members of the three groups willing to gather, like last night,  in a festive setting,  for the genuine well-being of a retiring member of “the other side”.   I understand that many union leaders elsewhere in the US are looking at the tripartite relationship that flourishes here in the Ohio Valley, and are now trying to emulate that relationship in their own local halls.

I say all of this to say that Steve Burton, as well as the leaders of the owners and contractors, have done an exemplary job over the years of fostering a genuine appreciation for the viewpoints of one another.

Perhaps that is because large capital projects are so hard to come by in our area and the three groups recognize that we must cooperate or the opportunity might be lost and it could be some time before the next opportunity surfaces.

This great relationship  between the owners, contractors, and labor leaders,  combined with the tremendous skilled union workforce in the Tri-State has been paramount in keeping the economy of our Ohio Valley alive, especially during the economically slow times we have just experienced.

Though I am a registered Republican I write this with sincere nonpartisan sentiment.  When it comes to economically growing our Tri-State area I consider myself a nonpartisan  “industrial enthusiast” and a “cheerleader” for the growth of the Tri-State and the creation of jobs.

I will close by a quote from Benjamin Franklin:  “Let us all hang together or assuredly we will all hang separately.”

Benjamin Franklin was a smart man and great leader. Steve Burton is as well. They both recognized mutual benefit in cooperation.


Rob Slagel is the Owner of Portable Solutions Group of Companies (Johnny on the Spot, Storage on the Spot, DropBox, Inc. and MSSI) in Ironton.