Thursday, September 12, 2013

Union Organizing and the New Reality

(This article was originally published at It's about Power Stupid! is cross posting hereto hopefully initiate discussion among Building Trades readers of the "value proposition" and alternatives to it.) 

By Danny Caliendo

The loss of jobs in construction may very well be the new reality. The loss of jobs will be permanent for both union & non-union and is due to ongoing technology in construction delivery and will also accelerate as modularization advances.

Why there is a lack of hard discussion about jobs at the national and state level is very strait forward – jobs are going to be hard to come by, particularly in construction, going forward.
Critically examining the continued “Value on Display” strategy as the model for market share increases in the Building Trades is long overdue and would require a hard core review of some of those statements that are at the core of “Value on Display”.

We are more productive and can make the non-union contractors more money.

Reality check is that 85% of all construction is done non/anti-union. The cost of putting a union tradesperson on the job includes: A living higher wage, real benefits, verified and dynamic safety, honest workers compensation & other ancillary benefits that accrue to the industry and the community; vs poor pay, little to no benefits, under/mis classification and/or 1099’s and the total abuse of  workers compensation in the non-union. Building Trades union would have to be 158% to 214% more productive, day in and out, to overcome these cost differences. If you are waiting for legislative relief to address these problems – without an increase in members and money – it’s not going to happen. If we continue to ”sell” this as a business proposition vs. standing up for workers’ rights and the middle class, then we will become the working poor!
Unions are safer –Yes we are & we report & act on safety to improve on it. Reality check is that non/anti-union either under report, or don’t report injuries and safety violations. Keep in mind that 85% of the construction world is fine with that. We can’t offset both poor safety and the total abuse of workers comp with increased production. The numbers/cost simply does not work! Safety has to be imposed on the work site, on behalf of the workers, and historically unions are the instrument for imposing worker safety on the job. At the end of the day, union work sites are safer, and that is imposed, not sold!

The Building Trades are highly skilled – YES!

Reality check, we are quickly moving into a time where skills will count for less & less because of technology & modularization. Increasingly production, fabrication & manufacturing will produce the majority of pre-built components for construction projects of all types. We are already behind the organizing curve organizing these entities. Also the reality is all of the Building Trades training modules are available for free to anyone who wants them, so why would you pay for a formal apprenticeship? Training is not keeping pace with the 21st century, while some components of training require “hands on” the reality is most training can be done online and protected to the degree possible. The rapidly changing design of construction systems, underlying warranties & liabilities currently militate against the current form of training.

The Building Trades is keeping up with technology. 

Reality check is that is ABSOLUTELY NOT THE CASE!
Priority 1 is advancing our signatory contractors in the market, we can do that – we are not! We still are dabbling with inter & intra union website BS, which by the way we suck at!
Labor/Management advances the union construction industry. Reality check is where are the real “net” numbers that demonstrate that? This may have been a worthwhile endeavor, however it is unions selling to unions – bottom line! The ROI is the ROI, tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars invested of member’s hard earned money for a collapsing market share!
Keep in mind “little items” such as withdrawal liability, Obamacare for our H&W, RTW, Prevailing Wage etc…
If we continue “selling” the “Value on Display” message when no one is buying – how much longer do we have before this becomes a “hard” lesson learned?
Organize and stay the hell out of the NLRB and get off playing on the other guys field. We need hard increased numbers to solve the issues of the day & the power and leverage to be viable in the future. Organize 21st Century style!
 “if you see a good fight – get in it”


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