Gotham Gazette https://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/2692 Fri, 28 Feb 2020 03:31:59 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) How to Expand Opportunity in Construction for Those Left Behind https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8321-how-to-expand-opportunity-in-construction-for-those-left-behind https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8321-how-to-expand-opportunity-in-construction-for-those-left-behind gov cuomo con ann fac

(photo: governor's office)


A lot has been made of the disagreement between open shop contractors and union trades over decisions by owners of private projects to supplement select trades. But where others get lost in conflict, I see opportunity. 

In many cases, open shop labor, machine operation, and some carpentry services are integrated to perform certain work, including safety and general condition services. But for many owners and construction managers, the reality is that most of the work on open shop projects is actually performed by union trades – and that is a problem. We have seen certain "progressive" trades using work rules and wage concessions to their benefit. As a result, these trades often have an advantage in being awarded construction contracts. And in this one-sided system, certain unions have been able to maintain and in some cases expand their market share.

Despite the odds stacked against us, open shop companies have been able to preserve a competitive advantage in a small number of trades, including labor, where the cost of doing business with a union shop is double. Due to issues including multi-trade and minimum manning requirements, union companies charge a whopping 20% more for services such as superstructure concrete. And to that end, broad-banding -- a classification system based on certifications and skill levels -- has made open shop contractors more competitive, while giving their employees an opportunity to learn a wide range of skills.

While the rules are written to work against the open shop model, the current construction landscape provides a substantial opportunity for open shop workers should industry and government choose to realize it.

For one, the construction trades and government must start working together to provide and promote extensive safety and trade training -- to increase the technical capacity of the open shop workers. Partnering with community-based organizations will not only provide a trained workforce but a recruitment tool that is ready to provide a steady stream of good-paying jobs to a city-dwelling and diverse population in an industry that desperately needs it.

With a labor market in desperate need of skills training, it’s time for our partners in government to protect their constituents by fostering growth of the market, providing the right environment for open shop contractors to develop career ladders for their employees, and promoting open shop apprenticeship programs through the removal of roadblocks and red tape. This call to action doesn’t apply to laborers alone -- once these individuals complete their apprenticeships, basic labor tradesmen can be offered a path to train in the technical trades, for example as plumbers or electricians. By building on their pre-existing knowledge of construction and the construction process, skilled workers will have more opportunity to succeed in a wide array of trades.

Moreover, living wage and basic benefit programs must continue to be improved to ensure that workers are paid equitably, while  “second chance” programs should be expanded and made accessible to ensure that when an individual has repaid their debt to society, they’re able to get back on their feet in an industry that offers them a path to employment instead of incarceration.

We’ve all heard the term “pale, male, and stale,” and the construction industry has a long way to go before we can shake that label, which is why a focus on diversity will be critical to the industry going forward. Our workforce should be every bit as diverse as the communities we serve.

It’s past time that we as an industry seize this opportunity. The construction industry has historically been the economic sector to narrow wage disparity and give immigrant and forgotten Americans an opportunity to seize the American dream. Let’s work together and continue to give all our workers the ability to reach it.

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Ron Lattanzio is President of TradeOff Construction Services.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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How to Expand Opportunity in Construction for Those Left Behind Thu, 07 Mar 2019 05:00:00 +0000
New York City is No Longer Just a Union Town; Open Shop Construction Workers are Finding Their Voice and Must Be Heard https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8169-new-york-city-is-no-longer-just-a-union-town-open-shop-construction-workers-are-finding-their-voice-and-must-be-heard https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8169-new-york-city-is-no-longer-just-a-union-town-open-shop-construction-workers-are-finding-their-voice-and-must-be-heard construction workers

(photo: Demetrius Freeman/Mayor's Office)


We’ve all heard that old refrain: “New York City is a union town.” In some cases, that’s still true, as many unions remain both politically influential and dominant in their industries.

But the truth is that New York City is no longer a union town when it comes to construction, as the vast majority of private sector work is being done by the open shop. A review of New York City Department of Buildings (DOB) pulled permits shows that most private construction work across the city – approximately 80 percent – is now done by open shop workers. That equates to more than $15 billion of work for the non-union workforce.

And despite what you might hear from the unions themselves, that’s actually a good thing for local communities and workers who’ve been left behind by the building trades. Men and women of color are finding new opportunities to enter the construction industry, and rates of local hiring on new projects are increasing.

The problem now is that even though construction unions no longer have most of the work in New York City, they still have the loudest voice. Whenever there’s a public discussion about laws or rules affecting the industry, politicians and policymakers always hear from union bosses – but they rarely hear from open shop workers about their interests and their needs.

More elected officials should recognize that the open shop is a prime source of employment and career paths for New Yorkers of color. Around three-quarters of open shop workers are black or Latino and residents of the five boroughs.

Officials also need to understand that construction workers in the open shop are earning good wages and benefits that far surpass those offered in entry-level positions in other industries. Workers are earning at least $20 per hour upon getting into the industry, as well as accessing crucial health insurance and 401k programs.

Beyond the obvious economic benefits for our city’s marginalized families and communities, open shop has also begun to reverse the impact of decades of discriminatory hiring practices in the construction industry. While unions have certainly come a long way, many barriers still stand in the way for people of color entering the field of construction.

This is all because, as its name implies, the open shop provides a particularly inclusive hiring model. And given the high rate of diversity in our part of the industry, employers now are investing more in construction safety and skills training programs for non-English speakers. The incorporation of bilingual instructors into these programs has facilitated efforts to attract workers from diverse backgrounds and expanded open shop job opportunities further.

The question now is how to keep moving the needle. As the open shop continues to expand, the need for support and resources from city and state officials will only continue to increase. These workers work hard to support themselves and their families – and they deserve fairness from politicians across the spectrum.

Politicians at all levels must identify a long-term, ongoing effort to create resources for open shop workers and residents of this great city. New York City really is not just a union town anymore. We’re proud of that and ready to fight to keep that progress going.

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Brian Sampson is president of the Associated Builders and Contractors, Empire State Chapter. On Twitter @ABCEmpireState.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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New York City is No Longer Just a Union Town; Open Shop Construction Workers are Finding Their Voice and Must Be Heard Tue, 01 Jan 2019 05:00:00 +0000