In Q&A Session, the LA and Orange Counties Building Trades Leader Talks Unifying Trades, Expanding Prospects
By Jacob Bourne, contributing writer
Chris Hannan, recently elected president of the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California (SBCTC), stands out as a national figure thanks to the significant contributions he’s made in his previous role as executive secretary of the 48-affiliate-strong Los Angeles/Orange Counties Building and Construction Trades Council.
Hannan has built a reputation for solid and determined leadership. He has succeeded in getting the L.A./O.C. building trades involved in impactful projects such as the ARCHES Hydrogen HUB initiative, a statewide public-private partnership working to harness hydrogen power and local renewable resources to decarbonize California’s state economy.
He has also shown his political mettle, rallying his SoCal building trades brethren to support the ultimately successful United to House L.A. ballot measure. The measure, meant to address the housing and homelessness crises in L.A., will raise hundreds of millions of dollars a year to build new homes under PLAs, as well as protect renters.
As the president-elect of the SBCTC, Hannan now represents nearly a half-million union members throughout the Golden State. He said that in his new role, he is committed to ensuring that the voices of California’s construction workers are heard in the state’s capitol while creating new opportunities within the industry.
The following interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Organized Labor: Tell us about your history in the trades and how you progressed into leadership.
Chris Hannan: I started as an apprentice with [Whittier-based] Sprinkler Fitters U.A. Local 709 over 27 years ago. After completing my apprenticeship, I became a journey-level member and foreman. In 2006, I began working full-time for the same local union.
OL: How did your path evolve and bring you to where you are today?
CH: I worked with the sprinkler fitters for six years as an officer and a full-time business representative and organizer. I then joined the Los Angeles/Orange Counties Building and Construction Trades Council as a council representative for L.A. County. When Executive Secretary Ron Miller retired in 2021, I took over his position, which I served in for two years before being sworn in as president of the SBCTC on July 14.
OL: What’s your vision for your new
role as president?
CH: My goal is to unify our building trades unions and advance opportunities for their members across every sector in construction. I want to grow opportunities for journey-level members and apprentices alike. I aim to work with local building trades councils to develop robust apprenticeship readiness networks, collaborating with local school districts, community colleges, and community-based organizations. The goal is to raise awareness about the trades and apprenticeships and to advance them as far as we can.
OL: Do you have a particular approach to promoting the rights of working people?
CH: We need to be proactive and continue organizing. The Biden administration has proven to be very pro-union, but we can’t rest. We need to keep fighting for working people, as it’s increasingly more difficult for them. Our union construction careers offer great opportunities, but we must strive to further these opportunities, ensuring they can comfortably raise their families and enjoy the wages, benefits, and opportunities that they rightly deserve.
OL: Can you share some recent wins and positive developments?
CH: Absolutely. Under former SBCTC president Robbie Hunter’s leadership, we made refineries in California safer places through Senate Bill 54. Refineries are now highly unionized, offering safety for workers and surrounding communities. In collaboration with the Biden administration, North America’s Building Trades Unions passed the largest infrastructure package of the last half-century. The bipartisan infrastructure package, the Inflation Reduction Act, and the CHIPS Act were all positive steps forward for working people throughout the United States.
OL: What current challenges face the
building trades statewide?
CH: Although California has many positives, it’s becoming increasingly expensive to live here. Working people are struggling, and we need to work with our labor siblings to advance the agenda for working people. We need to collaborate with the State Senate and Assembly and the governor’s office to enact laws that benefit workers. Issues like housing and access to healthcare can be addressed through good union careers and project labor agreements, which set standards for collective bargaining.
OL: What message do you have for the San Francisco Bay Area’s building trades members?
CH: I want to personally acknowledge all of the members of the San Francisco building trades and the surrounding building trades councils. Your leaders — people like Rudy Gonzalez, Andreas Culver, Bill Whitney, Dave Bini, Danny Bernardini, Manny Pinheiro, and so many more — are extremely dedicated, and I look forward to working with them. The Bay Area labor movement is strong because of your commitment, and it’s envied throughout the state and across the country. I look forward to collaborating with all of you.