AGC Union Contractors Exchange Views with Carpenters and Operating Engineers General Presidents at New England Regional Meeting
AGC held a regional meeting with the National Construction Alliance II (NCA II) - a partnership of the Carpenters and Operating Engineers unions - on August 4 in Boston, Mass.. Meeting participants discussed such issues as the multiemployer pension plan crisis, restrictive work rules and subcontracting clauses, increasing productivity, jurisdictional disputes, national heavy-highway agreements, and the NCA II unions' relationship with the AFL-CIO's Building and Construction Trades Department.
Members and Chapter staff from collective bargaining Chapters in the New England area and New York attended, along with Operating Engineers General President Vince Giblin, Carpenters General President Doug McCarron, AGC Union Contractors Committee Chairman Jim Clemens and Staff Associate Denise Gold, NCA II Executive Vice President Ray Poupore, and other labor representatives. The meeting was AGC's fourth regional meeting with NCA II. The meetings, which began last year, are intended to provide AGC Chapters with an opportunity to communicate directly with union leaders about contractors' local and regional concerns directly and to engage in a dialogue to solve problems together.
The conversation began with a common concern raised by contractors at such meetings: the unsustainable nature of the system currently used in the union sector for providing retirement benefits. Giblin responded that much of the widespread fear is exaggerated and that defined benefit plans should be assessed individually. Many are actually in good shape, he asserted, observing that the Operating Engineers Central Pension Fund - a large, national fund - is comfortably in the "green zone" because trustees have taken aggressive steps to recoup losses. McCarron indicated greater concern about the industry's pension funding woes, noting that AGC and the trades have been working closely together to lobby for pension relief in Congress. Echoing sentiments expressed by Giblin at prior meetings with AGC, and to the likely dismay of the contractors in attendance, McCarron stated that he favors a defined benefit model over a defined contribution model, because "people have a hard time taking care of their money." Instead of shifting responsibility to the workers, plan trustees need to manage the funds better, he said. They need to take an active role and make tough decisions. One way to improve the situation is to merge plans to save on administration costs, both general presidents said.
Contractors also appealed to the general presidents to help them find ways to be more cost-competitive. McCarron reported on efforts to work with management consulting firm FMI to identify opportunities for increasing worker productivity. "We're working together...to try to change the culture to improve productivity," said McCarron, and that increased productivity will lead to increased competitiveness.
One contractor asserted that this is not enough and that what is needed in his area is relief on restrictive subcontracting and jurisdictional clauses. He shared a recent experience in which the local union's refusal to grant relief caused loss of the entire job to open-shop contractors. We need to look at these situations on a case-by-case basis, Giblin responded. He added that, at the national level, NCA II has learned from recent job losses and has made accommodations where necessary to get a job and where strategically possible. McCarron maintained that work preservation efforts like subcontracting clause concessions and job targeting programs must be accompanied by "aggressive organizing of the subcrafts" to be successful. He referenced the Carpenters' drywall industry organizing drive as an example.
Inefficient, outdated work rules are another hindrance to union contractor competitiveness, said one chapter executive. Project labor agreements - which often include inefficient work rules - exacerbate the problem in the area, he said. Also, out-of-towners often receive "sweetheart deals." He suggested an "experiment" of suspending the work rules for a year. McCarron said he thought that this was a good idea to try on a pilot project basis.
Reiterating statements made at prior AGC-NCAII meetings, the general presidents reported that they have no intention of reaffiliating with the BCTD at this time. The BCTD's resolution to charter a new Carpenters union and similar threats are not the way to tempt the two unions to return, they said.
Another message espoused by the general presidents at prior meetings that arose again was the message that contractors may and should communicate directly with the general presidents' offices. In the context of problems with labor trustees on Taft-Hartley fringe benefit funds, this is particularly important, Giblin noted, since management trustees have a fiduciary duty to protect the trust fund. Both Giblin and McCarron expressed the view that they are "not typical" general presidents in that they are not as "hands-off" and that they have "zero tolerance for the nonsense." Giblin closed the meeting with a commitment to return for further discussion in the future.
No specific dates or locations are currently set for future AGC-NCAII regional meetings. However, McCarron and Giblin will speak at AGC's Annual Convention on March 21, 2011, in Las Vegas, Nev.. All convention registrants are invited to attend. For more information on the convention, go to http://convention.agc.org/.
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