Materials, Training and Cooperation Top Contractor Concerns
The BAC Executive Council met in May to continue its work on the Union’s strategic plan—the Millennium Morning Project. President John J. Flynn opened the meeting by reminding attendees why strategic planning is more important today than ever before.
“The world we organize in, the labor-movement we’re part of, and the industry we work in are constantly changing. Some of the changes are slow—so they creep up on us. But others have a major and immediate impact,” said Flynn. “The only thing we know for certain is that more things are going to change and impact our ability to organize and do business—some positive, some negative.”
The Millennium Morning discussion started with a report on comments and suggestions received from Local officers and members on how to retain members, recruit people into the trades, and the outlook for work. Their comments served as a jumping off point for a more in-depth look at the broader challenges facing masonry contractors and our industry.
A Pressure Cooker of Complex Forces
Eugene George, President of the International Council of Employers of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers, told the Council “the masonry game today has become a pressure cooker of complex, often conflicting social, economic, political and environmental forces that are imposed on new development. These intertwined forces impact our industry to an extent never envisioned 20, even 10, years ago, and in my opinion our future as a viable business and an honorable trade depends on our paying a lot more attention to these forces than we have in the past.” George gave specific examples of industry and world events that are having a significant impact on the industry, including:
Mergers and takeovers that have left fewer manufacturers of masonry products in the marketplace, thereby limiting product choice and eliminating competitive material pricing;
Economic pressures in the form of higher insurance costs brought on by the tragic events of last
September, and the criminal behavior of Enron and other corporate executives; and
Union jurisdictional disputes and disruptive job site slowdowns that cause developers and general contractors to be less inclined to favor masonry materials for their next projects.
Factors Raising Costs
William McConnell, President of the Mason Contractors Association of America, added to the list, but not before letting Council members know who they were dealing with. “I am a signatory contractor, and proud of it,” McConnell told the Council. McConnell reiterated George’s concerns about materials inventory and quality, and added a few more to the list:
The general contractor who does business as a construction manager and passes the risk on “to any group, subcontractor, or individual that has a contract with them;”
Architectural and engineering firms that have a limited knowledge of masonry products; and
Entry-level engineers who lack technical skills and product knowledge because they never received any apprenticeship training and are required to learn at the job site.
McConnell finished by thanking President Flynn for speaking at the MCAA’s national convention earlier this year. “John made a presentation before the group that was well-received. I was greatly impressed, and in fact, when I went to John and said thank you for coming, he said, ‘Bill, I really didn’t come here to see you. I came here to see all the open shop contractors so we could get them to come along on our side.’ And he did a pretty good job,” added McConnell.
A Need for More Dialogue
demonstrated the benefits of AAC at the new IL District
Council Training Center.
Ron Winkler, Chairman of the Canadian Mason Contractors Association, brought the Canadian perspective to the table. “I am in a unique position to see the strengths of labor and management and how each of them affect each other and our industry in Canada,” said Winkler. “As a masonry contractor operating throughout most of western Canada, not just Saskatoon, I understand the issues that encumber my profitability and reduce my return on investment. As a tradesman, I am aware of the pride I have for this trade and how important proper trade skills are to my livelihood. I wanted a career in this trade, not simply a job. My youngest son is a member of your Union, and is a third-year apprentice.”
Winkler noted that too often people at every level in our industry look “only at the tree rather than the forest.” As a result, in Canada “we’ve left training to people that have no real vested interest. We’ve allowed the deletion of employer industry contributions for marketing and promotion, education, training, market recovery within local and/or provincial agreements, and unethical behavior by employers who, having made an agreement, look for ways to breach the terms and conditions. All of these weaken our industry.”
Winkler also raised concerns about the Union’s lack of penetration into the residential sector. By “allowing the residential sector of the masonry industry to be neglected and disjointed” it has become “a breeding ground for non-union contractors and poor workmanship. Now they are some of my major competition,” he said.
Winkler urged everyone involved to engage in a more open dialogue. “There really is no border,” he said. “Problems that they’re having with the government or the policies that are made in the United States are policies that we’ll see in the future in Canada. Similarly, problems that we’ve had in Canada are going to be the same problems, if they haven’t had them yet, that are going to crop up in the United States. We have to have a dialogue.”