The following are excerpts from the General President’s panel entitled “Can We TAUC?” from the 2008 Leadership Conference. The panel was moderated by Mark Breslin, and included General President Patrick Finley of the Operative Plasters & Cement Masons’ International Association, President John Flynn of the International Union of Bricklayers & Allied Craftworkers, International President Edwin Hill of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, General President Joseph Hunt of the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental & Reinforcing Ironworkers and General President James Williams of the International Union of Painters & Allied Trades.
Mark Breslin: Could each of you describe some of the things your unions have done in the last year to recruit new members and get them trained for the predicted labor shortage?
International President Edwin Hill: Well, we’ve taken a real evaluation as to how we do business, as we were losing market share in many parts of the country. So what we did was we added to our classifications, in what we call CW or CE, Construction Wireman or Construction Electrician. We have training programs throughout the country for these people, but how we’re getting them is we’re holding Industry Nights. We’ve done these in Florida and Texas, but also in the northern states as well.
General President Patrick Finley: We have 60 job core sites across the country that feed people in, and like everyone else up here we have our local apprentice program. But I think your initial question was what are we doing to address the shortage? We’re failing. We are keeping the pace, but that is not enough for what we’ve got coming. That’s the bad news. The good news is that situations like this, the TAUC program, we go into the high schools at these job fairs, we take the local union contractors with us.
Tom Van Oss, Cherne Contracting Corporation: Do any of you have a metric that charts your membership numbers to total market share, and then going forward or even going backwards, while looking at what we’re projecting for the workload in the future.
General President Jimmy Williams: We retain the services of FMI to do that for our district councils. It’ll all depend upon the geographical jurisdictional. Our district council in Chicago, for example, has a 78% market share that covers two counties. Their idea of what they’re doing doesn’t compare to say DuPage District Council which is right next door, which covers 13 or 14 counties that aren’t in a downtown area.
General President Joe Hunt: We do that as well in the Ironworkers, and in our studies we had one statistic really jump out to us. 47% of our members are either eligible to retire today, or will be in the next ten years, and that 47% comes out to roughly 40,000 members. So, for us to must maintain our present membership, we have a yeoman’s task on our hand? it’s a real challenge.
Steve Johnson, GEM Industrial Inc.: How has the Code of Excellence Programs gone over in your trade, in respect to buy in from the local unions and are you seeing measurable results? Culture change, customer satisfaction surveys from end users as to the changes they’re seeing.
General President Patrick Finley: The problem we’re experiencing is from the contractors, because they are hesitant to write a letter against a guy. They’d rather just lay him off, and it’s not helping either one of us. I know you guys are busy, and it’s easier to just lay him off and get someone else in there. But our biggest hurtles is not having the documents to back us up when we need to get rid of the bad performers.
International President Ed Hill: Quite honestly, our membership said it was about time?I’ve used these numbers many times, 75% to 80% of our membership just wants to go to work, do their job, and go home. They don’t want to be bothered with the rest of the crap that can go on a job. They’ve been the silent majority, and we’re turning them into a police force. They have to tell the non-performers, you can’t come into work late every day, or drunk, because our customers see that.
Mark Breslin: One thing you just said which resonates with people is that the local union leader can’t just get elected and not get the job done. This questions is for President John Flynn, what can you say to this group who have to deal with the people on the ground who aren’t following the positive initiatives you guys are putting out?
President John Flynn: For the most part, the code of conduct and all these things, we’ve had really good reception from our locals. The reception from our contractors as well has been great. On a one to one basis, throwing people out, I haven’t heard much about that. In our trade if you can’t work hard, and don’t do a good job, you typically can’t make a living and you eliminate yourself from the business.
Gary Bohn, Kiewit Power Constructors Company: When a union contractor is successful in winning a job that provides work opportunities for union craft, why is getting buy-in to work under a national agreement become such a struggle?
General President Patrick Finley: The first reaction from the local is, screw the international, they can’t tell us what to do. When you actually go through the agreements, comparing the national agreement to the local, there really isn’t that much of a difference. The big part of the issue again, is communication, and part of that is our fault in explaining to the local guys what the minor differences are and why the national agreements are being used.
Mark Breslin: If you had to look into the future, ten years ahead of today, how many building trades do you think there will be?
International President Ed Hill: Let me just say this, I believe that discussion is out there all over the place, but I think it’s up to each international union to make that decision. I believe the economy will dictate, but I hope in ten years we will all still be here because we will all remain relevant and necessary.
General President Joe Hunt: I’m not going to predict how many will be here in ten years. But do I think there should be some consolidation, yes.
General President Jimmy Williams: I am totally open to any type of consolidation, but we have to get back to the vehicle to do that. It has everything to do with the constitutions of each individual international union.
Mark Breslin: If you were put in charge of the entire industry, emperor for the day, and you could make any one change? what would be the change you’d make?
General President Jimmy Williams: I don’t have a revelation, but what I would like to see, before any job was started, an entire pre-job, laying out all of the jurisdiction, all work assignments, and not leaving until everything is worked out and done. Now is that a pipe dream? Yes, probably. Because it’s tough to get everyone in the room?I would like to see a united building trades, everyone in the same house, following Mark Ayers.