Laborers and Iron Workers General Presidents Share Views at AGC Convention
Two of the industry’s top labor leaders addressed contractors at AGC of America’s 2016 Annual Convention on March 10 in San Antonio, TX. AGC CEO Steve Sandherr engaged Terry O’Sullivan, general president of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, and Eric Dean, general president of the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental & Reinforcing Iron Workers, in a discussion about their unions’ current initiatives and other matters of concern to union contractors. The session was hosted by AGC’s Union Contractors Committee and opened by Committee Chairman Vic DiGeronimo, Jr.
Multiemployer pension plan reform was among the hot topics discussed. AGC has worked closely with the building trade unions to advocate for reform. While the Multiemployer Pension Reform Act of 2014 brought some of the sought-after changes to the law, further revisions are needed. Mr. O’Sullivan commented at the session that he supports legislation to facilitate the use of composite plans as an alternative to traditional multiemployer defined benefit plans, but he also wants to allow traditional plans to opt out of the “doomed” Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) system. Other insurance options are available, he noted. Mr. O’Sullivan said that he opposes an increase in PBGC premiums at any level, explaining that he finds it difficult to “keep throwing money to an agency that is going out of business.”
Mr. Dean was asked to share his perspective on the application to reduce benefits recently made by Iron Workers Local 17 Pension Fund out of Cleveland. He said that the critically funded plan exhausted all other options for relief before resorting to benefit reductions and that retirees are looking at benefit cuts of 30-50 percent. He also noted that the Detroit Iron Workers fund is not far behind. He added that his union supports composite plan legislation but is also looking into an existing opportunity for relief under 414(k) rules, particularly for their national pension funds. They are waiting to hear from regulators as to whether they may take advantage of 414(k) provisions, which would permit annualized contributions paid into a defined contribution plan, eliminating future withdrawal liability, and converting annually into an annualized benefit, he said.
The union leaders also spoke about their respective organizations’ current workforce development initiatives. When asked about efforts to meet growing labor supply challenges, the general presidents talked about their various tactics to recruit more people into the trades, including efforts to reach out to more women and other under-represented groups. Mr. O’Sullivan talked about the different strategies his union uses to recruit in union high-density areas verses low-density areas. In low-density areas, for example, they work more with faith-based groups and day labor organizations, and run radio ads in both English and Spanish. When asked about training those already in the industry, Mr. O’Sullivan said that training is “near and dear to my heart” and is “what we do best.” He reported that the Laborers now have 70 fixed training facilities across the country and over 40 mobile training facilities. Collectively, through employer contributions, the union is spending $130 million a year to train laborers.
Mr. Dean, who just became general president eight months ago, reported that his predecessors put into place various accountability measures and key performance indicators to assess local training programs, schools, labs, and the like. The international has also established a Recruitment and Retention Committee that is putting together a best practices white paper, reported Mr. Dean. The intent is to push local joint apprenticeship and training committees – which oversee 156 Iron Worker training centers across the country – to integrate these best practices and adopt standard selection procedures. He also spoke about professional development opportunities beyond craft skills training that his union sponsors, such as a succession planning program taught by FMI designed to encourage continuity of union-signatory companies and to facilitate opportunities for Iron Worker leaders to eventually become savvy business owners.
To hear the entire discussion, click here for a video recording of the session.
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