April 10, 2012

In My Opinion: Local workers not strictly union


---- — I read with interest Betty Lennon's In My Opinion piece that appeared in the March 31 edition of the Press-Republican.

In her article, Ms. Lennon describes a number of issues discussed at their most recent Northeast Central Labor Council Legislative Breakfast, including some specifically related to the construction industry that I would like to comment on.

Ms. Lennon spoke to the Wicks Law, which, I might add, is under serious review. There are many who will argue that, contrary to Ms. Lennon's statement, the law actually increases the cost of construction projects because it removes the ability of the general contractor to have ultimate control of scheduling issues. which cause delays and cost overruns. I urge all of our legislators to become engaged and educated about this issue before reaching any conclusions.

One place that Ms. Lennon and I find common ground is the need for more construction jobs to remain local; however, we remain at odds in how to achieve that goal. Ms. Lennon insinuates labor unions are the only source of local construction workers. That is simply not true. The truth is that more than 74 percent of the construction workforce in New York state choose not to belong to a construction trade union of any kind.

Incidentally, two of the largest projects in New York's recent history, the Tech Park in Malta and the Champlain Bridge replacement, were both built under Project Labor Agreements utilizing union-only workforces. What has not been publicized is that the vast majority of those union workers were from another state or out of the area, when thousands of local merit-shop (non-union) employees stayed home, unable to work because of exclusionary union membership requirements.

I would caution anyone against using a Project Labor Agreement because they actually do not guarantee local construction workers are hired, only that a local union hall act as a funneling mechanism for out-of-area workers to come into our communities and work.

Furthermore, it is not necessary to utilize anti-competitive and protectionist union-only Project Labor Agreements to ensure workers on a public job are paid prevailing wages. State labor law stipulates the "prevailing wage" must be paid on all public work.

Additionally, merit shop employees often reap higher take-home pay than their union counterparts because they are not obligated to pay union dues; this means more income for families and more money available to spend in the community.

Incidentally, most merit-shop contractors are vested members of our communities which have long-term relationships with their employees that they want to see prosper. Most of these same contractors offer their employees substantial benefit packages, including health insurance and retirement plans.

Several speakers may indeed have mentioned that union goals are community goals. I would argue that construction goals are community goals. We need to put our very talented community back to work, regardless of union affiliation.

Stephen M. Lefebvre is president of Associated Builders and Contractors Empire State Chapter, with offices in Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Albany and Long Island.