LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - Organized labor helped build Southwest Louisiana and union leaders say they can do it again. As industry grows, Chuck Bennett said organized labor is key. Bennett is with the SWLA Central Trades Council.
"We're going to fight to get union workers in it and we're going to push for it because to get 40,000 workers in this area, the unions can do it. We can get them down here. We've been talking to Congressman Boustany and some of the other elected officials down here to encourage them to use organized labor, to use union labor," Bennett said.
Carlos Perez is on the Workforce Investment Board. He said highly-skilled workers are important.
"A lot of these projects coming up, there's going to be a lot of safety that needs to be looked at. People haven't been trained in the most up-to-date and state-of-the-art training like we're used to. Most of our apprenticeship programs are used to curriculum changes, national code changes, that some of these refineries and industries haven't taken into consideration," Perez said.
Union leaders are against foreign workers coming in and living in what some would call labor camps.
"Workers of the United States, workers of Southwest Louisiana, we can build everything they want to do over here. Use us, don't let them bring in foreign labor. Don't' bring in anybody from the Philippines and house them in a man camp. I'm very worried about them because the workers in this area cannot compete if a company can bring people from outside the country, put them in that man camp and then charge them, drive them around, charge them for their food. They make people coming and going off them and our people won't be able to complete against that," Bennett said.
Congressman Charles Boustany, R-La., who attended the Labor Day picnic, said local and American workers should come first.
"We need all hands on deck and the first priority ought to be to local skilled workers who are ready to go and I think we are going to have plenty of work for anyone who wants to work and I think our labor leaders understand that. They want to be part of the solution," Boustany said.
State District Judge Kent Savoie agrees.
"I certainly believe that as much as possible local labor should be utilized to provide for the growth and expansion that's going to take place," Savoie.
And so, the unions celebrate Labor Day and the movement to encourage prosperity for working people when the economic boon hits.
About a dozen local labor unions participated in this year's Central Trades Labor Day Picnic held at the Machinists' Hall.