It was Paul Harvey who used the relatively common statement, “and now, the rest of the story,” to great effect, marking the turning point in his radio program where a listener went from hearing an entertaining tale to getting the complete picture to knowing they were about to get the truth.
The ideals of union construction continue to come under attack. That somehow protecting your people and investing in your workforce is a recipe for disaster. These arguments are easy to make when you ignore the fact that they are a direct assault on the hard-working men and women simply exercising their right to organize. And they vilify the contractor who elects to invest in their people to ensure that owners receive the best possible projects.
And now, the rest of the story.
Investment in People
Productivity requires investment. That’s why from the moment a union member receives a union card until the day she files for retirement, she is receiving enhanced skills instruction, advanced certifications, and journeyman training. The finished product from this joint labor-management investment is a field professional, equipped with the capacity to take on any new challenge on the job site.
Productivity also requires the elimination of distractions. And as any working-aged adult can attest, one of the greatest personal distractions is financial insecurity. Not only is it bad for business to miss deadlines and redo work due to unnecessary distractions, but it’s also considered a safety hazard. With their reputations on the line, union affiliated contractors recognize that it makes more sense to provide their crews with family sustaining wages, premium health and welfare coverage and retirement benefits.
The collective bargaining agreements also provide necessary protections against worker exploitation. Granted employment laws have come a long way since the labor movement in the early-mid 20th century. However, because reasonable minds can differ as to where the line of diminishing returns is in relation to hours, work rules, etc., it’s crucial that those involved have a forum to discuss where the line ought to be for their segment of the industry.
Investment in an Industry
The collective bargaining agreements are also a vehicle for continued industry growth and success. Industry Advancement Program funds give employers a leg up through, among other things, safety training and services, leadership development and enhanced training and certifications. Community-based workforce development is only possible through direct investment in organizations such as WRTP/BIG STEP. And labor and management have worked together to form essential community partnerships through direct investment in organizations such as the Construction Labor Management Council of Southeast Wisconsin.
Investment in the Community
The community also enjoys the benefits from these investments, both in terms of increased economic opportunities for individuals but also in the projects dotting the skyline in southeastern Wisconsin.
Because journeyworkers experience financial security, they are financially a net positive for the state in terms of spending on private goods and services, a continued tax base, and lack of dependency on government services. At no time has this been more urgently needed than now, during the economic downturn due to the pandemic.
In Milwaukee, all you have to do is look around you to see the positive direct impact union construction has on the community. With projects like Komatsu, Grand Avenue, Fiserv Forum, Northwestern Mutual and The Moderne, it just makes sense. Where project-labor agreements were used, they were for the owner’s benefit, due to project length and scope. Viewing these collaborations with distain only further erodes the trust in initiatives that benefit everyone involved. Initiatives like Residents Preference Program, Davis-Bacon, Prevailing Wage and Responsible Bidder are designed to help both community and project owner.
Again, it’s easy to paint an organization or its leaders as the enemy. But when you get the whole picture, or as Paul Harvey would say ‘the rest of the story,’ you see that union construction is simply hard-working men and women investing in themselves, and working with contractors who know that through valued partnership, it’s the owners of construction projects and the community that benefit.