Laborers President Shares Views and Information at Union Contractors Committee Meeting
The “old structures of the past” will not facilitate the kind of growth that the Laborers need to go forward, announced Terry O’Sullivan, general president of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, in a telephone address to the Union Contractors Committee during AGC’s Midyear Meeting on September 30.
The union withdrew from the AFL-CIO’s Building and Construction Trades (BCTD) last summer because it did not want to be “held back.” Leaving the BCTD was “easy,” O’Sullivan remarked, because the department lacks leadership and direction. The need to “change course” also motivated the Laborers to later withdraw from the AFL-CIO umbrella organization, he said, pointing to the acute decline in union membership. The union movement needs a strong, strategic organizing program, he said; it cannot be strengthened by putting money into politics.
With that in mind, the Laborers committed an unprecedented level of funding for organizing during its national convention two weeks earlier. The union adopted a plan requiring all of its regions to ramp up contributions to organizing funds to 25 cents per work-hour within three years, O’Sullivan reported. Organizing efforts will include working with Change to Win – an AFL-CIO splinter group formed by the Laborers and six other unions last year – to penetrate the vastly open-shop residential sector. The Laborers will also work with the new National Construction Alliance – a new basic trades group launched in May – on initiatives to increase market share in “low-density areas.”
When asked about jurisdictional disputes, O’Sullivan voiced strong opposition to use of the Plan for the Settlement of Jurisdictional Disputes, also known as the “greenbook.” The Plan system for settling disputes puts too much weight on antiquated jurisdictional agreements and decisions of record, O’Sullivan indicated, whereas he favors local area practice. His union will refuse to use it unless absolutely necessary, he said.
Jurisdictional disputes were also discussed by Carol Isen, director of labor relations and community programs for the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission’s (PUC) Infrastructure Division, who gave a brief report on labor relations at the Hetch Hetchy water distribution system project. During ongoing negotiations for a project labor agreement, a lot of energy has been spent determining which unions will perform the various types of work expected on the $4.3 billion job, causing “distractions” from the focus of the project, Isen reported. With “more than enough work to go around,” the PUC is also concerned about labor shortages and wants to work with contractors and unions to encourage enrollment in apprenticeship programs, she said.
The meeting also featured an update on collective bargaining by Bob Gasperow, executive director of the Construction Labor Research Council (CLRC). Settlements reported so far this year are higher than usual, Gasperow advised, with individual settlements straying from the national average ($1.87 per hour or 4.8% increase in first-year wage-and-benefit rates) more than usual. He noted that Laborers settlements have been the highest – largely due to a $4.00 per hour settlement in the Chicago area covering 20,000 workers – and that overall results varied by region more than in recent years. Reflecting on trends over the past two decades, Gasperow reported that overall compensation for union craftworkers has risen about 160% and that wages have generally kept pace with the rate of inflation. Benefit contributions have increased at a much higher rate than wages, he noted, most notably in the past five years.
CLRC will issue an annual report on collective bargaining settlements at year-end. The report will be posted along with other CLRC reports on the Labor & HR Topical Resources page of AGC’s Web site at www.agc.org/laborHR/topicalresources under the topic “Collective Bargaining Agreement Data.” AGC also maintains a searchable, online database of collectively bargained wage and fringe benefit rates gathered by CLRC at www.agc.org/cbrates.
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