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The Building Trades Plays Checkers – While the Construction World Plays Chess

Before Labor Rising gets into the whole chess and checkers blog, we would like to acknowledge “THE” Robbie Hunter’s upcoming retirement (Building Trades President of California)! What a loss for the trades and not just California! BTW Labor Rising got into trouble blogging on this in the past. Brother Robbie, we have to call it as it is – you are a prime-time player demonstrated in battle after battle on behalf of union trades!

Why Robbie was not the NABTU President is another sad chapter for the trades. The current NABTU Prez cannot even play checkers & his track record shows he never could. Brother Hunter is a Grand Master and would have excelled in playing chess at a national level! The trades have several excellent chess players; however, few are in positions to change the trajectory of the trades unless they step out of line and cease the current negative momentum. Carpe Diem!

So, let us look at the chess pieces on the board playing against the union trades in the upcoming decade.

We at Labor Rising have been working with professionals in this arena to figure out a formula to better express this equation. The variables (many of which are listed below) are all against us and are difficult to formulate. We may be taking a cheap shot here, but it occurs to LR that the “leaders” at the helm of our respective internationals should be all over this – but they are not!

  • Non/anti-union currently have 86% of all U.S. construction work per the Labor Department and other creditable sources. This is the entire measurable universe of construction.
  • Modularization is here and currently has 2 design types developed. There is room for a few more & some are in the works. Warren Buffet’s group is looking at profitable returns, minus development, by the end of this decade. So are the other design & engineering firms doing this because Berkshire Hathaway will drive it! Per creditable labor sources, several sectors of commercial work and in the near future residential work, is ripe for industrial style of modularization in construction.

We believe Amazon looks to become a disruptor in construction with all their own internal building and that seems likely at his point in time – let’s see what transpires in the not-too-distant future. The monetization of what they learn would be off the charts profitable!

  • Miniaturization engineering is making rapid advances in industries and will build with off the shelf parts to the highest degree possible & modularize the f*>k out of them in construction sectors, making for quicker builds and minimal use of field erection hours – and BTW, this will be presented as an installation, which will be a different SIC code. This is a big deal in and of itself! This is the dumbing down of construction and the need for most skills by the end of this decade. Between what is going to happen to commercial and industrial work, total union hours will be crushed! Most, if not all, locals & DCs’ defined pensions are in harm’s way.
  • Competing union trades for the work – Carpenters have the inside lane here almost purely by happenstance. Part of the equation is that with the non-union having 86% of all work, the carpenters will use EVERY means to survive to compete for the installation & fabrication/manufacturing of modularized work. Even though the non-union will be taking massive hits in work, our unionized sectors will take near proportional hits also. Then you have in the equation any and all double-breasted construction. When the big players represented by CURT need window dressing and a “UNION” presence during the decade and perhaps beyond, it will be the carpenters & the double-breasted construction pigs that will get it. Some skills will still be needed, which will come from the carpenters and double-breasted outfits. Politics and a great Labor Board cannot save the trades in this arena. The irony here is unbelievable. And the whole modularization and miniaturization of construction has been in plain view for at least 15 years. This is not a surprise. Even the disruptors like Buffet entering construction now are not really a surprise!
  • Today’s projections are that 60% to 80% of all outside field work hours will be in play by the end of the decade. When we say in play, we mean they will be eliminated. It will take fewer and fewer workers, most of whom will be semi-skilled workers, to do installations and outages!

So, some the whole number integers need to be stated as hours and we also need to add that veritable changes of those hours over time will take place. We will be using pre-COVID historical construction numbers since 2000:

  • 86% of all total construction work is non/anti-union expressed in hours.
  • Carpenters have approximately 375,000’ish members. Expressed in hours, how much can the carpenters union do for the upcoming workload needed?
  • Double-breasted construction companies are also a work in progress – Having researched this for many hours, Labor Rising feels confident that approximately 477,000 union workers have put their union card in their boot and have worked both sides on MORE than one job. Figuring these total work hours is critical and is the toughest part of the equation! Exceedingly early call, we estimate that between the carpenters and double-breasted workers that have worked non-union, the work force to install is essentially in place. Modularization needs from 20% to 40% of mostly semi-skilled workers. Between the carpenters and the non-union double-breasted construction companies they have (early call) the numbers needed. “SHOULD” these numbers work out even on the margins, union hours in the era of modularization, without a wholesale shift in strategy, will doom local hours and pensions. We would like to “HOPE” that the internationals would know this – but we really feel LR has a better handle on this number. The internationals are playing checkers! And we have a lot more work to do on this with the professionals we are working with. Those pros we are working with also have an interest in knowing these numbers.
  • Projections are based on engineering and delivery of modularized work, which show a consistent projected loss of 60% to 80% of total field manhours by end of decade in those modularized sectors. We know we’re being repetitive; however, this message needs to be repeated until those in high places act. Any more than 3 meetings and pseudo- sounding BS presentations by international types, without a concrete action plan to advance an overall strategy in place, will be truly catastrophic. Come on internationals – get people in place to do this. Act like the business you always present yourselves to be!

While these are the 4 main parts of the equation, there are more. Measures of inflation on construction, work availability and infrastructure spending plus a few more numbers and measurements in building an equation that will be further addressed in future blogs.

We use many points of construction information; however, we find Ed Zarenski’s construction analytics to be particularly useful. He uses many proven and time-honored contemporary construction analytics and adds a blue-collar common sense understanding of the industry in his view of the real world.

The next blog will present the hours needed for the trades to stay viable in a modularized era and discuss a real time solution.

Meantime why in the hell a group such as Labor Rising can put forth real and reasonable solutions, while the internationals are struggling to play a basic game of checkers, is just nuts!

The trades are running OUT OF TIME – do you get that international presidents of the trades?

“they wouldn’t know a fight – if it bit them on the ass”

3 cases in point that our internationals are just not up to the task of a modularized era:

  1. In St. Louis, many trades are signing agreements with the raiding carpenters. Why aren’t the trades aligning with the electricians to knock out the carpenters?
  2. Count Me In was the best run rank & file activist organization in the U.S. in the past few decades. Labor Rising only spoke with a few of the original activists. However, we clearly told them to NOT include ANY paid union leaders from NYC building trades as speakers at rallies and to refrain and document that the R&F activists of CMI stay independent of ANY & ALL directions of trades officials. Workers can ALWAYS talk to workers and be quite aggressive (minus any violence) on taking actions on non-union job sites. Once paid union officials started to be included and identified as leaders of CMI, CMI became a shell under threats of viable lawsuits from management against the trades.
  3. Ironworkers have signed an agreement with CLAC in Canada. CLAC is anti-union and makes the ABC look like pikers. So now the IWs provide IWs to CLAC jobs – WTF!?!

How many more recent cases do you what/need?

Danny L Caliendo


Labor Rising

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