Building Trades President Outlines Political and Business Priorities at AGC Convention
It's true that the building trades have heightened influence in Congress and the administration these days, AFL-CIO's Building and Construction Trades Department (BCTD) President Mark Ayers (left) acknowledged to a standing-room-only audience at a forum presented by AGC's Union Contractors Committee during the Annual Convention, and they're using that influence to encourage the enactment of policies that address one central goal: "to provide a significant jump-start to the U.S. construction economy." While these policies have been "mischaracterized as "special interest giveaways," Ayers stated, the true objective is "getting our members and our signatory contractors back to work."
While the federal stimulus program may not have included as much infrastructure funding as it should have, "the fact of the matter is that the injection of stimulus funds helped to keep our economy from falling into an economic abyss," he said. Going forward, the primary goal of a long-term economic recovery program must "focus on finding big sources of new growth that can replace personal consumption as the main driver of a new economy." With that in mind, the unions have been "aggressively pressing for a national energy policy that will ignite investments in the development of domestic energy sources." They are pushing Congress and the administration "to pivot away from a consumption-based economic model to one that is grounded in a renewed emphasis upon investment, innovation and productivity," Ayers said. An example of that is their support for recently awarded federal loan guarantees for the construction of two new nuclear reactors at the Plant Vogtle facility in Georgia.
The agenda also includes pressing for project labor agreements (PLAs) at the federal, state and local level. According to Ayers, a business model that embraces PLAs offers increased jobsite efficiencies through labor-management cooperation; ensures a steady, local supply of safe, highly skilled, and productive craft workers; ensures that those workers receive wages and fringe benefits reflective of their skill and productivity; and promotes access to career training opportunities for women and minorities.
Many in the audience - both union contractor and open-shop representatives - espoused a different point of view on PLAs. Participants challenged Ayers with questions and comments regarding the need for contractors to be involved in the negotiation of a PLA, the impact of PLAs on area bargaining, and the problem of trades not affiliated with the BCTD (the Carpenters and Operating Engineers) refusing to sign onto BCTD PLAs. Regarding the latter issue, Ayers reported that the relationship between the BCTD and the Carpenters has improved and that they are making progress on the matter. When told that PLAs are undermining master area agreements, Ayers replied that that is not the intent or the norm, and that PLAs should only add provisions that union contractors would appreciate, such as no-strike provisions and penalties for violations.
Audience members also expressed strong concerns about struggling multiemployer pension plans. Ayers agreed that the matter is a top priority, reiterating an earlier report by AGC's Associate General Counsel Denise Gold that AGC and the BCTD are working together with other stakeholders in a broad-based coalition to seek legislative relief. Ayers also took note when one audience participant urged him to push hard for a proposal providing blanket relief from Internal Revenue sanctions where a pension plan had pre-Pension Protection Act amortization extensions but missed its asset targets due to 2008 market losses.
Another top priority on the BCTD's political agenda has been Davis-Bacon, reported Ayers. He said he thinks that, within the next year, the BCTD will have achieved their goal of ensuring that all projects with any federal funding will include Davis-Bacon requirements without having to attain the requirements ad hoc.
Ayers acknowledged that the trades' own business model needed to be changed too. The BCTD has spent over two years instituting a new internal culture based on the motto "Value on Display. Every Day," he said. The new approach includes partnering with owners and contractors, embracing innovation, and instituting local union accountability measures as well as membership codes of conduct and excellence. When members of the audience expressed admiration for the goal but strong concern that the message is not penetrating at the local level in some areas, Ayers conceded that problems persist in some places but that he is delivering his message of culture change to locals throughout the country. Culture change was his number one priority when taking office, he said, and invited contractors to view a union best practices video on the BCTD Web site.
To view the full text of Ayers' speech, click here.
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