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The Increasing Tyranny of Building Trades Constitutions –


The title is chosen correctly – “tyranny”! Thomas Jefferson’s definition: “Tyranny is defined as that which is legal for the government but illegal for the citizenry.” Insert International Building Trades Unions for government and Local Union/Rank & File for the citizenry, and the man was talking to us.

I typically avoid writing from my own union experiences of 38 years. However, this time I feel it is relevant. Starting in 1993 I wrote the “unauthorized” version of the Rank & File Newsletter for the Ironworkers. Here is a link to a few of them:!AmKOi71GyLcguwclYGwopP5UV6VM           You will see that the issues of 20 years ago are exactly the same as today. At our 100-year convention in 1996, I denied the then general officers’ election by acclamation by rising on a point of order – which I had to fight for – to declare that “This delegate withholds my vote” which now made it a majority. My core reason back then was organizing and the conduct of some of the general officers over many years. Many fights broke out over the next few days. However, several resolutions, which were concurred with by their respective committees went down in flames. BTW, the general officers basically turned on each other and the IP went to prison shortly thereafter. The abuses of that IP where so systemic and widespread that a blind man could have seen them –  and yet no one else said a word about it except a Brother named Brent Emons!

Flash forward to today – 20 years later. Our respective constitutions are all documents limiting local unions’ and members’ rights in favor of management and senior leadership. Tyranny’s iron fist wrapped in a velvet glove, but a fist nonetheless. Most of the trades constitutions are far worse today.

Management has figured a way to imbed itself into our respective constitutions. This allows management to have one generation of “good ole boys” linked too subsequent and future “good ole boys”. Management no longer has to deal with varying deviations of styles of “good ole boys”. It is why Labor Rising with years of research and direct contact with Rank & File members and local leadership states clearly that Internationals are administrators with management pulling the strings. Sorry for the run on sentence. My bad.

Management has gone to school about how to beat/control the Building Trades; and all the while letting the trades think it was there idea! We in the trades call it “Value on Display”. On managements side, they play to our pride and egos. Throw in a measure of collaboration with the right tone. Meet endlessly in great venues. Throw in awards. Draw senior leadership in tight and elicit all kinds of actionable intel. Build a relationship with nothing but subterfuge at its core. Embed in most of the trades constitutions the “STANDARDS OF EXCELLENCE” and funding of Labor/Management documents. SOE document is NOT benign what-so-ever! It is a pro-business document with teeth and consequences. You will see its full force and effect over time by design. Management demands that any form of labor unrest/opposition research used against them, directly by the Internationals, will not be tolerated as they are the “good guys”, working with us – trying to build a relationship!

Build upon PLA’s and specialty agreements, which sounds so reasonable. Participate in Labor-Management relationships. Get Labor to introduce you to community members and government agencies and boards (which, by the way, without our help would take years, if ever, to establish). ID all our top hands by skills and attributes. Let the trades do all the recruitment, training, testing and vetting. Pass on these names to hard core recruitment firms like I Hire Building Trades, Tradesman International, Labor Ready, Trillium and several more. Within 4 years, this has become a $150-million-dollar industry, of just construction recruitment, which has 1 goal – to get our best. Retention of skilled trades-persons is very close to 1:1 depending on the trade. Most unions, DC’s, Building Trades and Internationals are using POST 2008 membership numbers and hours as the benchmark of work to beat today. Lowest bar they could find. The Building Trades have 11% of the market share and we are barely holding our own with now back-to-back years of record “NET” construction spending in the U.S. alone. On the trades side, we are in flat out recruitment mode and yet the retention rate remains at approximately 1:1. Translation – we are training the non-union in one form or another. Every number supports this to be the case.

Pure genius of management and the world of construction to play us like a fiddle!

Even Black & Veatch, KBR, Bechtel etc. want in on the action. The huge price reductions of workers with best in class skills. Price, classifications, conditions, benefits, ratios, terms of employment: all recruitment, skills and vetting done by union – to be transferred via hard core systematic recruitment. Nicely played management! Has anyone reading this NOT been contacted, or NOT know of someone who has been contacted by recruitment firms?

Trying to control the manpower; which is the trades version of organizing – when 89% of the construction market is non-union/against the trades in price, job offerings, reverse recruitment of our best, H-2B visas, legal and illegal workers, 1099’s, temp workers, most state laws, etc. is just not realistic without heavy doses of legal labor unrest – is just not working whatsoever. Labor’s mission is to BALANCE organized capital in a capitalistic country(s). A MOVEMENT! A business brand sells and capitulates. Can’t be consensus or compromise because both would advance or at least hold their own in market share; in context, respectively.

There are approx. 68 hot and heavy construction markets thru-out North America. 23 would/could make an argument as being union or mostly union. Recruitment will work for a while in those markets. Of those industrial/commercial markets, if we subtract approx. 50% of the union market share today – unions effectively cease to exist. Management controls all those decisions and our Internationals have NO PLAN to change this. Death by a million small cuts!!

The trends are well established and ongoing. New generations of technology applied in all industries and services. Strategy of management is to use the trades early on these jobs to establish how to efficiently do those jobs. Turn lesser skill based jobs into TASKS (upcoming Blog on this) and back the trades off the work in relatively short order. Tell the trades how much you value them, and then oftentimes only sign a PLA with concessions. Do future generations of work with non-union and recruit the union membership for the 89% and growing market share of the “NET” work being done non-union!

Ask Western Canada about how this played out for them. Lied to at every junction, and now with no plan from the Internationals have to eat the stripped down contracts which are shoved down the locals’ throats – OR – lose potentially millions of hours of work and the corresponding market share. Bet those companies’ profits and those Internationals’ leaders didn’t miss a check ever! Everything done on the backs of UNION workers there and everywhere! The Gulf States ramped up in the US after Western Canada. The trades are looking for bodies like maniacs. The trades are doing all the heavy lifting to recruit and train for these jobs. And what assurances do the trades have in the relationship? A PLA and the good will of the RELATIONSHIP! And the TROJAN HORSE of management, now even in our constitutions. Management has historically walked away from every one of their commitments when it is in their interest. EVERY number and trend, in every industry clearly demonstrates this over the past 20 years. Hell the past 100 years!

The Western US is now ramping up and again being a great union partner (the trends say patsies across North America) to management – as those before them in 2 countries have been.

Marcellus shale reservoirs will soon crank up thru the roof with the largest construction projects.

Hours and membership are up to POST 2008 levels in only 23 of the 68 construction markets. Thru-out North America, the 23 markets anchor by the Western US, Gulf States, Marcellus, Western Canada and Ontario plus a handful of union cities and specialty big hour jobs, which are enough hours to offset those union markets that are struggling and dying because of the sheer dollars being spent in those markets! Offset those hours and membership numbers with technology in construction delivery and we in the trades are now working mostly at the “WILL” of management in lieu of a strategic plan!

Next up – specific areas of the constitutions to understand and build strategy around for the return of the trades to a MOVEMENT!

“if you see a good fight – get in it”

Danny L Caliendo
Labor Rising/Labor Combat


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