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Published: Summer, 2003; Vol 5, Num 2

 

South Florida Breakthrough Models Means
To Build Market Share in Right-to-Work States

This spring in south Florida, the newly formed South Florida Structural Concrete Contractors Association (SFSCCA) signed a contract with LIUNA. This marked the first increase in LIUNA market share in the region since a long, steady decline began around 1970. Florida is a right-to-work state, and prevailing wages among Hispanic laborers in south Florida are below living scale.

South Florida contractor FormWorks builds a parking garage at the Ft. Lauderdale airport (Photo: Steve Clark).

Underlying this successful turn-around was LIUNA's aggressive organizing strategy among the area's largely Hispanic construction workforce. The strategy was devised and implemented by District Eight Regional Organizing Committee Director Greg Raftery and supported by the marketing talent of OV&SS LECET Director Bob Hanna. LIUNA Vice President and OV&SS Regional Manager James C. Hale provided overall direction and leadership.

The central issue around which Laborers rallied and pressed their case was health and safety on the jobsite.

According to Hanna, "This organizing drive, targeting Hispanic workers and drawing on safety and health issues both to galvanize workers and to add value for management, is a useful model for the work ahead as LIUNA builds market share in right-to-work states."

In mid-2001, when the effort began, one organizing target - FormWorks - was working on a union-financed project using union labor at prevailing wages under a project agreement. There, the necessary union cards were soon gathered, and LIUNA won the election.

Don Marks, President of FormWorks, had worked union in the 1980s, but was disenchanted with what he called "hardball union tactics of the time" and broke with LIUNA in the early 90s. After the union election in 2001, he remained reluctant to sign a contract, and the bargaining process failed to get off the ground.

Then, in 2002, in an unfortunate accident, a young Hispanic worker was killed when he fell down an elevator shaft on a FormWorks site. LIUNA organizers responded quickly, pressing Marks with a series of public demonstrations. In conjunction with these actions, Hanna renewed efforts to negotiate a contract and showed flexibility by agreeing to phase in wage and benefit increases, based on the union's ability to sign other key area contractors. Marks, who was genuinely interested in tapping LIUNA's programs to improve safety and training, came around. Late in 2002, an agreement was reached.

Meanwhile, another south Florida structural concrete contractor, J.A.M. General Contractors (JAM), agreed to bargain with LIUNA, and Hanna set about assisting in the creation of the SFSCCA. Marks agreed to serve as President, and JAM Vice-President Jack Bullis agreed to serve as SFSCCA Vice-President. FormWorks' partner in the large Ft. Lauderdale parking garage construction project, Baker Construction (a national contractor based in TexasOhio that works both union and non-union projects), also agreed to participate in the association.

To boost organizing among Hispanic workers - and, thus, to build union market share and accelerate phase-in wage and benefit increases - Raftery established The Workers Center in Lake Worth, nearer the residential center of the Hispanic workforce and staffed by bi-lingual organizers. Through the center, LIUNA is able to position itself as a resource for Hispanic workers seeking jobs farther south in Broward and Dade counties. The Center provides support services to Hispanic workers and their families while focusing mainly on identifying workers with construction skills. It then assists those workers in applying for and securing jobs., and they, in turn, begin collecting signed union cards. Eventually, LIUNA will petition for elections at the other large concrete companies in the area.

To add value for the contractors who signed with LIUNA, the Laborers' Health and Safety Fund of North America (LHSFNA) agreed to assist the new association's members in addressing important safety and health concerns. In February, LHSFNA Occupational Safety and Health Division Associate Director George Macaluso and Communications Coordinator Steve Clark visited FormWorks and JAM jobsites and attended the second meeting of the new association. Through the course of discussions with Hanna, Marks, Bullis and Local 800767 President Tom Mathews, the LHSFNA identified three priorities.

First is the training of company safety officers for the new association's members. JAM is a typical general contractor, employing less than 50 workers, and Bullis and his partner provide day-to-day on-site management. In addition to everything else, safety is their responsibility. Seeking help, Bullis asked if the Fund could help develop one of his top workers into a safety officer. Macaluso recognized that elements of the Supervisor Training and Education Program (STEP) could be readily adapted to train safety officers, and the Fund agreed to plan the training.

Second, the members expressed interest in developing a cooperative relationship, as an association, with the OSHA Area Office and its new director. Because of its long involvement in many aspects of OSHA's programs, the LHSFNA is able to assist in introducing the association to the area director.

Third, the LHSFNA agreed to monitor the state's crisis-ridden workers' compensation insurance system. The state has the highest premiums of any state (21% higher than the second place state), and a legislative committee is looking into a comprehensive overhaul. While that process unfolds, the LHSFNA will examine the state's safety discount, drug-free workplace and alternative dispute resolution (ADR) programs to determine how association members can save on premiums under current Florida rules and regulations.

[Steve Clark]