The union construction industry is facing down some serious problems – including pension and immigration reform – but there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about what the future holds, said Sean McGarvey, President of the Building & Construction Trades Department (BCTD).
McGarvey spoke May 3 at the Quality Construction Alliance’s (QCA) annual Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C. QCA is comprised of five specialty construction trade associations, including TAUC.
McGarvey said the future opportunities for growth in various industrial sectors – primarily gas and oil – is “nothing short of phenomenal.” He said more and more large corporations are realizing that when it comes to long-term workforce development – a key component of any successful business strategy – the building trades offer a value proposition second to none.
The individual building trades unions spend a combined $1 billion per year on training, McGarvey said. As more state and local governments cut back on workforce training, the unions are there to fill the void. The result is a workforce of highly skilled, productive and safety-conscious men and women ready to tackle the big jobs that, in the past, simply haven’t been available to unions.
The BCTD is aggressively pursuing new opportunities in areas that, historically, have been less than friendly to unions, like the Southeast. McGarvey and other top BCTD officials are meeting one-on-one with large owners to show them exactly what the building trades unions and their partner contractors have to offer. Forty years ago, many corporations became “double-breasted” and opened non-union companies to avoid dealing with unions. Today, it’s the exact opposite, McGarvey said: non-union contractors are being told by owners to set up union operations!
“Looking at the trends, I can’t be more optimistic about how much we’re going to grow in the next 10 to 20 years,” McGarvey said.
However, challenges still remain. McGarvey said that unlike many in the organized labor movement, the BCTD does not support the comprehensive immigration reform package currently being pushed in the Senate because of its approach to the temporary foreign workers program. McGarvey argued that with 7% unemployment in general and 14% in the construction sector, “there’s not a need” to flood the market with temporary foreign workers. He also said that the program’s provisions aren’t enforced, allowing foreign workers to abuse the system.
The BCTD president also praised the recent pension reform proposal from the National Coordinating Committee for Multiemployer Plans (NCCMP). Trustees need a new set of tools to better manage their plans, he insisted. The current pension regulations for multiemployer plans sunset at the end of 2014. Realistically speaking, a new plan must be approved by Congress no later than July 2014, he added.
“If we’re going to grow as an industry, we need to solve the unfunded liability problem in our pension system,” McGarvey said.