The clean-up at the World Trade Center is an outstanding example of the quality and value of union labor, particularly the labor of LIUNA members. But this same value also is evident in local situations across North America.
Unfortunately, however, it takes a dramatic event like the WTC clean-up to make the point because, in far too many local situations, the value of union and LIUNA labor is not well understood or well-promoted.
“Until very recently, the union sector was losing market share in the construction industry. It’s a hard truth, but we faced it squarely,” says Armand E. Sabitoni, General Secretary-Treasurer and New England Regional Manager of LIUNA. “We’re starting to turn that around.”How is that possible?”
From the early 1800s and deep into the 1900s, during the heyday of industrial production, the relationship between labor and management was often hostile. Unions relied on mass organizing to win gains for workers, and management responded on a host of fronts to limit these efforts.
Over the last two decades, however, the steady rise of service-based production changed the outlook, for many, on both sides of this historic divide. In today’s highly competitive, global economy—where the quality of a company’s workforce is critical to its long-term success—the more farsighted elements of labor and management have embraced strategic collaboration.
“Ironically, in the new economy,” says Sabitoni, “the existence of a union—in this case, LIUNA—actually makes it easier to achieve successful labor-management collaboration. Our extensive organization of the workforce, our financial resources, and our ability to help Laborers see how better to ensure their futures provides an edge to any employer who works union.”
“The Tri-Funds are the means,” he adds.“They provide a way to work together on common goals.”
The funds focus in three areas:training, marketing and health and safety.
“The one thing most employers understand is our training fund,” says Northwest Tri-Fund Field Coordinator Doug Buman. That fund, the Laborers-AGC Education and Training Fund, has been in existence for more than 30 years. “Here in the northwest, employers know that when they sign contracts with LIUNA, they get a workforce that knows what it is doing on the jobsite.”
“For some individual contractors,” he continues, “LECET (the Laborers-Employers Cooperation and Education Trust) is the hardest to appreciate because it works on the big picture—how the larger market is shaping up and what contract opportunities might be developing. The immediate value of that research varies, depending on each company’s focus and flexibility when the research comes in.”
“I don’t think our health and safety fund is as well understood and appreciated as it could be,” Buman reports, “It can provide very significant, direct service to our contractors, but few of them take full advantage of the opportunity.”
“We provide two kinds of direct service to signatory employers,” says Joseph C. Fowler, Executive Director of the Laborers’ Health and Safety Fund of North America (LHSFNA), established in 1988. “A lot of bids require submission of a company safety program. Our professional staff will work with signatories to develop these programs. Also, on established sites, if there are safety concerns, at the invitation of the business agent and/or the employer our staff will visit the site and make specific recommendations as to how to address them.”
“And it’s all prepaid,” adds George Macaluso, an Industrial Hygienist who has conducted hundreds of these inspections for the LHSFNA.“As I try to explain to the contractors, we work for you. It’s part of your contract with LIUNA.Use us.”
Macaluso recently accompanied Buman on a tour of construction sites in Alaska. In advance, Buman contacted local union business agents and asked them to arrange get-to-know-you visits with local contractors for Macaluso, “a safety expert from Washington.” When Buman, Macaluso and the local agent went to sites, Macaluso sought out the safety manager or project supervisor, walking the site and discussing ways that visible or potential safety concerns might be handled. In each case, he offered to develop site-specific proposals or programs, if the owner was interested. An important by-product of these exchanges was the introduction of the local business agent to the local contractor and his key safety staff. “It can’t hurt for them to know each other,” Buman says.“We want our signatory employers to see us as a resource they can call up and use.Health and safety services are direct, immediate and very beneficial.”
“We’ll never be able to meet with every employer face-to-face,” recounts Buman. “But we have to do it as much as we can. We also should be systematic in the way we do outreach. We should think about which employers in the region are influential among their peers and build relations with them—for instance, the ones likely to serve as management representatives at negotiation time.”
“The bottom line,” says Fowler, “is improved safety and health pays dividends for employers. Fewer injuries translate directly into lower workers compensation rates. In combination with the Tri-Funds’ training and marketing services, our safety and health services enable LIUNA signatory employers to be more competitive and more profitable. We’re all winners—as simple as that.”