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The Building Trades Have Been Losing for a Long Time –

50 Years of Shrinking Union Membership, In One Map

The Building Trades have collapsed disproportionately during this period as compared to public sector unions – steady and consistent loss of market share irrespective of the economy and political administrations “NET” over decades!

Robert Georgine, who was the Building Trades President from 1974 – 2000, was particularly effective in capitulation and conceding to management at the national building trades level. Many of the specialty agreements now used had their roots when Georgine was the S/T (1971) and President (1974) of the National Building Trades. The Oil Embargo of 1973 collapsed construction for several years. The path of least resistance to management was Georgine’s way – give the work away under specialty agreements! This was also the era of the expansion of the “good ole boys” club. Georgine never funded organizing and we became the “country club,” turning away all those on permit then in (1973), on a doby, white ticket or temporary worker status. Most credible numbers put that at 50% of all Building Trades workers back then. It was like putting the non/anti-union on steroids. The anti-union component was composed of those with many years of work on temporary workers status who then got screwed out of ANY type of pension. ERISA was passed in part to establish pension vesting rules, and not just the failure of the Studebaker Corp. Georgine’s poor leadership not only didn’t get him fired – he was awarded additional responsibilities as the CEO of ULLICO in 1990, a union owned insurance/investment company. You may want to Google Global Crossing to see the scandal Georgine et al was a part of. Almost single handedly he wreaked havoc with two labor entities during his tenure. He created a culture of appeasing management.

The trades were at a crossroad in 2001 and had a choice of which direction to take after the disaster of the Georgine, et al, Era. The Carpenters pulled the pin and disaffiliated with the trades to pursue Labor/ Management Carpenters’ style – which BTW hasn’t worked either. Others, like Brother Ed Hill, came to power when he was appointed General President of the IBEW. His interests were the same as memberships, in that he saw numbers and markets being lost from the Georgine Era. In what I believe was then a decision made in “good faith”, the IBEW, et al, had a decision to make on a strategy to raise numbers. That decision would become the earliest form of what we now call Value on Display (Business Unionism to many). To his credit, Brother Hill was the only person at the national level to have a plan. And, as the IBEW went, so did most other Building Trades in making this fateful decision. It isn’t that Brother Hill didn’t care – actually it is quite the opposite – he did!

Collaboration with management and selling a value back in 2001 was a legit strategic decision – to sell the value of training, skills and availability of workers at prices/conditions in line with competition that the non/anti-union exerted over the construction market through 2001.

Brother Hill and most of the rest of the IP’s bet the farm on Value on Display by the early 2000’s. Working with management in a collaborative spirit in “HOPES” of raising market share. This was also the beginning of the Breslin Era of selling and being “professionals.” However, his and the IPs’ definition of that concept, is very different from that of the Founders.

Around 2003, Standards of Excellence were adopted, as was a position of softening the actions and titles of Organizers to that of Market Development Reps. This meant a kinder/softer strategy of NOT rocking any management boats at almost any level. Market Recapture/Target funds to buy (and subsidize) work come into being. We call it contractors crack. Hard core concerted activities (including labor unrest) was replaced by persuasive speaking classes. Some trades developed proprietary, subjective measuring and tracking tools. Salting gave way to stripping, which is now recruitment. Funding labor/management groups became mandatory and was prime language in most CBAs. The CBA gave way to PLAs; and new worker classifications along with rolling over to most of management’s demands. And now pensions are threatened because of increasing management demands to NOT pay into them because of the funding levels.

The issue wasn’t: “Is this strategy going to work or not?”  It was tracking and critiquing/measuring the effectiveness of Value on Display as a strategy over time and in varying economic cycles. Can’t fault leaders charged with strategy development in 2001; however, EVERY number across the board “NET” clearly indicates that Value on Display is NOT only a disaster – management uses it AGAINST the trades! The strategy of VOD has reduced the trades to a temp agency and works in almost all circumstances to benefit management while the unions get crumbs!

Some comparisons: The Dow on Dec. 31, 2001 – 10021, now 25,790, an approximately 150% increase, including all crashes from then till now! Population of U.S. in 2001 – 285 million, now 330 million, which is why the trades’ density number is a joke! Value of Construction Put in Place in 2001 – 863 billion (Source: U.S. Census). The Value of Construction Put in Place, total in 2017 was 1.2 trillion and has been at 1.2 – 1.6 trillion for 3 consecutive years (Source: U.S. Census).

Union Building Trades in 2002 – approximately 18%; in 2017 it is approximately 14% (U.S. Census). Many other sources have it as low as 10%. ALL Private Sector unions in the U.S. sit at 10.6% today (Source: U.S. Census).

Membership numbers for 2002 & 2017:

Carpenters in 2002 – 531,839; 2017 – 424,826

IBEW in 2002 – 722,095; 2017 – 671-076 (ask the IBEW how many are inside field construction)

Laborers in 2002 – 840,180; 2017 – 576,75 LIUNA leaves the BT in 2006 to join CtW (Change to Win) (Source for all numbers above: The Internationals’ own LM-2)

AND BTW: we are giving books away at cut rate prices and losing. The Trades do not understand that those that want to be union – want far more than skills and training. THEY WANT TO BELONG TO A MOVEMENT! As Senator McCain, RIP Brother, said, something bigger than themselves. We are in the right place in history, but with the wrong strategy and leaders!

The above 3 unions each has its own version of Labor/Management cooperation – all have gotten their butts kicked along with the rest of the trades “NET” with any version of Value on Display!

When held up to money in the economy, growth of population, growth of construction – DENSITY/MARKET SHARE of Value on Display has been an absolute DISASTER. Even factoring in tech advances in construction delivery, VOD has reduced us to near extinction!

With the rise of potent anti-union Hell-bent on putting the union trades OUT OF BUSINESS, along with a sound strategy of transferring our union contractors and workers to the non-union, we are systematically being shut down.

ORGANIZING is taking the non-union CONTRACTOR and imposing a CBA on them regardless if they want one or not. It is giving anti-union their wish, which is they would rather go out of business than work with a union.

Our Founders did far more than control the work force – why they were successful is they went after the customer, owner, end-user, developer, contractor and imposed themselves on clients, credit and markets (now public perception of the company). They also had a detailed strategic plan of what, when and where. AND, they always kept their MOUTHS SHUT, except at the CBA table. AT ALL TIMES, no one (from management) ever knew when they would show up and what they would do!

Here is a link to what the Building Trades need to teach to get back to building a “middle class” of workers instead of being complicit with wage stagnation and the rise of “working poor”!!AmKOi71GyLcgkRDGsNrLWiSeduGk This is the Labor Rising Foundations training outline that the trades at the national level will not allow Rank & File to develop and execute! Losing appears to be in their DNA – not ours!

“if you see a good fight – get in it”

Danny L Caliendo
Labor Rising/Labor Combat

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