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Who has been Negotiating Your Union Contract?

The anti/non-union has! Now for over a decade I have watched the sheer frustration and downright anger of the Rank & File regarding the bargaining of a new contract.

Many members think that our negotiating team is in the room with the union contractors, when in fact it is the increasing non-union market share that largely controls the outcome of the negotiations. Absolutely the state of the economy factors into the equation, however that being a push, it is the increasingly anti/non-union market share that dictates the ultimate terms of the contract.

We as the Rank & File feel that with all our skills and safety that we deserve increases in wages, benefits and conditions, and that the construction world needs us. That our union negotiating team failed to make that case sufficient enough to bring home the contract that we deserve; or even worse – they sold out!

Question Brothers & Sisters? Who get the better contract year in and year out, a union that has 80% of all the work but the hands are dogs; or the union with 20% of the work and every hand is Cracker Jack?

If you hesitated even for a moment with that equation, then your pride in your skills got in the way. Now for almost 3 decades we have been taught to believe that it is our skills that win the day in securing higher wages, benefits and conditions. We in the Building Trades call it “Value on Display”. Certainly having great pride in ones skills is a high priority – but until and unless we have that same level of pride and even more, the commitment to our union – our market share will continue to fail.

There is a simple test that anyone believing that their skills are why they get better wages, benefits and conditions can take to resolve that belief – quit your union contractor and take all your skills and credentials to the anti/non-union contractor and let me know what they are willing to pay you?

Ideally being both Cracker Jack hands and having high market share would be the sweet spot of wages, benefits and conditions, however most of our efforts and money go into selling our skills and not securing our markets.

Even our market development reps continually “sell” the union with little knowledge of the direct negative effects of that strategy. Big time items such as recognition, credibility determinations, modularization, technology, providing information about our union activities regarding safety & training to the anti/non-union contractor and several other very actionable items the non-union can take to defeat working with us. Value on Display does NOT work as a strategy – but rather is a tool within a greater strategy. So what is that greater strategy?

Only unions have a legal right to monopolize the workforce and put huge pressure legally on the anti/non-union contractors’ business model – but we do not!

So your negotiating team is no longer negotiating your contract – the non-union market share is!

Our leaders try to protect the high end Building Trades rate knowing that if it collapses there is no longer any high water mark in which to negotiate from, which will also have a direct effect on prevailing wage rates.

However the increasing non-union market share is why there is the steady erosion of that top rate in the form of different books, long apprenticeships at reduced rates, new classifications and specialty agreements just to name a few. We as the building trades continually try to compete on price with the non-union with some offsets provided by skills. Competing on price is not what a union is all about, we are here to advance the interest of all workers, union or not and securing a real wage, benefits and safe working conditions – that is what a union does. And by the way is why we have a middle class.

For now over 3 decades we have not controlled our markets with the activism needed to advance our union and by extension “us”, and until we quit playing patty cake with the very contractor, construction manager and end user that wants to put us either out of business and/or control us like a “company union” we will continue to lose market share.

Do not confuse work due to an increase in the economy in your area with increases in market share, because historically it will bite us in the ass.

The Building Trades has now tried in good faith to promote the “Value on Display” in every economic environment only to have less market share and even more importantly less density.

Time to go back and reacquaint ourselves with who we are and what we want – and do it!

Danny L Caliendo
Labor Rising

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