All in Agreement: Are Trade Unions Doing Enough?
Relationships can be one sided, negative or they can be positive or neutral depending on what each party wants out of the relationship. Solid, positive relationships are built upon trust while temporary relationships are built upon something other than trust.
Contractors have relied heavily upon the trade unions’ ability to recruit, train and retain construction workers. Unions and contractors have what is called a symbiotic relationship, which is a relationship between two or more parties in which each party is dependent upon the other. The relationship between trade unions, their members and contractors may have simply been built upon, “finding a need and filling it,” which is usually a temporary relationship ever changing and evolving.
If you were asked to create a new union for construction workers, what would this new union look like? What would be different from what exists now? How would this new union be governed? How would this new union better benefit members and contractors?
Would you create one trade union governing all construction work rather than multiple trade unions governing many different trades? How would you go about creating an atmosphere wherein both trade unions and contractors act in the best interest of each other?
Many people in the construction industry think about what’s wrong with trade unions, their members and the relationship between union and contractor without offering a solution.
For example, what have trade unions done to improve the image of construction and construction workers? What are unions doing about the expected loss of skilled journeymen due to their impending retirement from the trades? What are unions doing to help Hispanics assimilate effectively into the construction industry? What are unions doing to improve the attitude, behavior, skill and safety of the workforce?
What Am I Doing?Generally, people base their opinions on what they “perceive” to be true without having all the facts. Mass media is a perfect example of how influential a medium can be without giving the reader or viewer all the information they need to make an informed decision. In other words, we “perceive” what is true because it’s easier and faster. When we’re hungry and don’t have a lot of time we hit the fast food restaurants. Today, forming an opinion is similar to a fast-food-fix approach.
Placing blame on trade unions for not improving the image of construction, or for not attracting future talent, is not a solution; nor can trade unions be blamed for most of the industry’s problems. Indeed, trade unions have done a great deal to positively impact the industry as a whole.
To my knowledge if you were to take the top 20 wall and ceiling contractors in the nation and ask them how much money they spend on front-line worker training as compared to office workers you will find a huge disparity.
Each year our office workers are reviewed, and during the review process we establish goals we hope to achieve. One of my goals is to find a creative way to improve the image of construction and the image construction workers have of themselves. As I thought about my goal, I realized how contrary this goal may appear to some people. After all, no one group other than trade unions has invested so heavily in the recruiting, and training of front-line workers.
I’ve realized that trade unions can’t do it all. In fact, I’m not sure I want trade unions to be the sole provider of training to our workers. I think a company needs to connect with its front-line workers in a way that promotes a positive relationship. Just because a worker is a “union” worker does not mean a contractor can’t provide leadership, motivational, or time-management training. Just because a worker is “union” does not mean contractors can ignore their needs and growth potential.
I believe construction workers are one of the most important worker groups in the world, and without them life would be far different and much more difficult. I’m for construction workers making as much money as possible along with having a great benefit package and a retirement package. Trade unions have done a good job in this regard; however, money is not the only thing that motivates a front-line worker.
What are some of the basic benefits unions generally provide for their membership?
• Excellent benefit package
• Technical information
• Enhancement classes for journeymen
• Tolerable wage
• Market recovery
• Member resources
• Substantial legal war chest when employers do not pay
Employers who don’t, or won’t, provide the minimum of a good benefits, wage and retirement package for their employees is what I would call a “last resort.” A front-line worker can’t afford to work for a company that doesn’t provide the basics. Overall, the trade unions have done a good job negotiating a fair agreement “mostly,” meeting the needs of workers and contractors.
When I was a kid I remember President John Kennedy said, “ask not what your country can do for you-ask what you can do for your country.” I wonder if we can apply President Kennedy’s quote to trade unions and workers. Should contractors be asking trade unions and workers what they can do for the contractor, or should contractors be asking what they can do for trade unions and workers?
Have trade unions done a good job of recruiting, training and retaining workers? Yes, they have done a good job. Do contractors share in the responsibility of recruiting, training and retaining workers? Absolutely!
What are you DoingI happen to work with a company that cares about its front-line workers and is doing more than most to improve the lives and the image construction workers have of themselves. Is it enough? We can never invest enough in people who will become–or are–the heart and soul of a company.
If we believe the majority of our profit is made in the field, why don’t you/we invest more of our recruiting, training and retaining dollars where it makes us the most money? A friend of mine recently asked me, “do you punish your dog a month after he pees on your carpet?” Although his comment was accurate in my case, I can apply it to all of us who don’t get what they want from their front-line workers. Weeks, months, and years later we complain rather than train front-line workers.
Front-line worker training is an important issue to consider and I would like your opinion on this subject. In your opinion, What sort of training should contractors provide their front-line workers?
Please send your comments to email@example.com. You can also “post” your comments on the Walls & Ceilings bulletin board at www.wconline.com, click on “bulletin board,” and then click on “training,” post.