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A “Book Yet To Be Finished” –      

On the Labor Day weekend of 2007, we put down the foundation for a book. As a student of labor history and the past Treasurer of the Illinois Labor History Society, I felt it was important to chronicle the decline of market share in the building trades since 1973 for future tradespersons to reference.  We did not want to leave it to academia and/or management to portray their version of what happened to the building trades in this time frame. We were determined that what was wrote would not be a fluff piece with large font and double spaced, just to fill pages.

Unfortunately, based on the environment in 2007 and 2008, we felt we were writing our obituary. As we developed the research, a compelling story unfolded. What has been said to be happening, throughout the years and right up to the present; to maintain and grow our market share did not square with actual research material.

In our blog posted “Vegas Baby,” our research concluded that, on an analytical basis, the sheer number of organizers and agents deployed during these past 40 years should be able to maintain, and in fact grow, building trades’ market share. However, the research also concluded that the various strategies used, have clearly been incapable of building market share.  It’s not the Field Organizers, but rather the strategies – or more specifically the lack of strategies that are at the root of poor market share development!

All of the strategies used to date have not only failed, but they have not been properly measured to determine whether they were working at all and at any point in time!

The strategy of bottom up organizing in the building trades has never been measured as far as we could tell. Bottom –up was developed for fixed CIO type work places. There is also a complete void of any written materials demonstrating that bottom up organizing, as a strategy, is an effective way to raise market share. When you look at the NLRB over the past 40 years, we have numbers which clearly state that we absolutely cannot raise market share using bottom up. The Building Trades have a combined win rate of approximately 9% analyzing win to loss ratio, first contract & decertification as a composite number. It is a tool at best, and certainly has a place, but only in the hands of an experienced organizer.

Top down started in approximately 1996. The theory then was that we were the “best kept secret” and if only the world of construction knew about us, market share was sure to increase dramatically. From 1996 to 2002, market share continued to fall even with near record amounts of work. From 2002 to the present, the building trades have adopted the value added strategy of selling us like a service to a customer. The theory was that we were a “brand” and needed to sell ourselves. The numbers are rigid and compelling: during this time period, our combined market share has continued to fall. Our market density number through this period has dropped to an all-time low. With the construction economy picking up in many parts of the country, will we as the Building Trades again confuse increased amounts of work and hours with actual increases in market share & density. Travelling the country and having Agents/Organizers coming to class – we see – yet again – unions running all over the place to recruit workers for existing contractors. Very few NEW CBA”s are being reported!

Among many vulnerabilities of top down is that someone has to be buying what we are “selling”. The anti-union, for nearly 2 decades now, has said very specifically, they are not going to sign! Prior to the Pension Protection Act of 2006, no one was buying and our market share continued to drop. Since the PPA and Pension Relief Act and our combined unfunded liabilities – along with business unionism as a strategy, non/anti-union signing a CBA have been hard to come by.

Where the end-users are putting unions on the job, has everything to do with a business decision to do so. Neither the union nor non-union can do all the expected upcoming work. So the end-users are very smart to use our skills and also elicit trade-offs that accrue to their benefit. So giving us work in certain industries, BUT threatening that if we organize on that job, and/or other similar jobs, that we will be thrown off the work. There are many versions of the Building Trades trading short term job gains with our long term viably as unions going forward.

Organizing dependence on activities such as “market recapture,” political connections (of any and all types), legislation and a host of other pseudo organizing strategies have all helped to hasten our drop in market share. We continue to use the get the job approach to market development, instead of organizing the contractors & workers within a given market. We call it, developing our Compression Zone(s). The above are nothing more than tools, and unless they are interwoven in a stated and written strategy – they have failed. The numbers measured in any objective way clearly scream out this fact!


As previously stated in the “Vegas Baby” blog, any organizing strategy brought forth in good faith is a good thing. However, not properly measuring the effectiveness of the strategy to win, and taking steps necessary to hone or change the program, is at the core of our inability to increase our combined market share. Simply stating that it is a “NEW” strategy does not change the underlying structure of any given strategy. We at Labor Rising are continually looking for written instruments that show what the difference is now; in the value approach we are pursuing, compared to a few years ago? Value also has a place as a tool, but the numbers are the numbers, and as a strategy, New of not – is not the go to strategy to raise market share for the Building Trades.

The last chapters of the book are still incomplete and waiting for an ending. Labor Rising programs where borne out of hard core research & solutions. Our ability to win lies in our ability to organize along the lines of clients, credit and social image and footprint, and target the non/anti-union contractors and end users weaknesses. We need to organize asymmetrically and not force on force!  It is at the core of what successful organizers/market development reps do.  Also, if we do not get up to speed – NOW – with regard to the use of technology across many fronts to bring us into the 21st Century, the final chapter may already be a forgone conclusion!

Danny L Caliendo
Labor Rising Group

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