Comments from a St. Louis area union boss in an article in the Illinois Business Journal supports the premise that anti-competitive project labor agreements (PLAs) saddle construction owners and contractors with poor productivity and archaic union work rules that needlessly inflate the cost of construction (“Lack of productivity puts St. Louis in backseat for economic development“). Note: Here is an easy to read PDF of the article.
TheTruthAboutPLAs.com readers may remember that we explained the merit shop cost advantage here with conclusions from studies conducted by independent and union organizations.
Now a leader of organized leader is echoing similar concerns about union productivity and is calling for reform:
St. Louis’ economic development efforts are being hamstrung by its abnormally high cost of construction, according to Terry Nelson, executive secretary-treasurer of the Carpenters District Council of Greater St. Louis and Vicinity.
This has made the St. Louis region “fly-over” country for site selectors, he says.
Nelson says it costs 28 percent more to construct a building in St. Louis than it does to erect the exact same building in Chicago. The reason? Lack of productivity of the St. Louis building trades workforce.
Nelson’s concern that union workers aren’t producing for contractors is a common gripe the merit shop community has heard from customers and contractors for decades – and it is one of the reasons why merit shop market share has steadily increased and more than 85 percent of the U.S. private construction workforce chooses not to belong to a union.
“The guy in Chicago, believe it or not, he worked 7 ½ hours today while the guy in St. Louis only worked 4 ½,” Nelson said. “Where did that other 3 ½ hours go? When my carpenters walk on the job, their cost to the contractor is $1.03 a minute. That’s their wages, their benefits, the workmen’s compensation and yada, yada, yada and all the stuff that goes with that. You just think for a minute, if you’ve got 10 guys on the job, that’s $10 a minute. They all leave 10 minutes early, there went $100 out the door.”
Nelson explains how inefficient union work rules are a reason for higher costs and lower union productivity:
Nelson says one of the problems is that some unions refuse to do anything that is not specifically their work so that some workers end up sitting around and watching while others need help. This type of inflexibility costs time and money, he adds.
Nelson is proposing that the workers start the day at the work station prepared to go to work immediately – not simply at the job site, which has been past practice. Under his proposal, the workers would stay at the work station until 10 minutes to lunch time; take 10 minutes to wash; 30 minutes for lunch; and go back to work until 20 minutes before quitting time, taking 20 minutes to pick up their tools and clean up.
“That’s the way they do it in open shop,”Nelson said, “and that’s our competition.”
“Keep it in mind that union workers have only 11 percent of the construction work in this country today and the open shop workers have 89 percent of the work. Now who’s doing it right and who’s doing it wrong? My God, we have slipped, slipped, slipped, slipped, slipped. The thing that kills unions is our arrogance and our attitude. Like we are God’s gift to everybody. Like without us the world comes to and end. Whoever believes that BS is nuts. But we buy into that stuff. I haven’t bought into it. I’m on the other side of the street. But again, I’m not the most loved guy in a labor meeting; that’s just the way it is. I keep going back to Business 101,” Nelson added, “to what makes sense and what doesn’t make sense.”
We agree that these simple reforms make sense. But that would challenge the status quo Big Labor has attempted to protect for decades. Instead of reforming their product and meeting the demands of customers and the market, some labor unions focus resources on attacking competitors’ market share through the political process (via government-mandated PLAs and other anti-competitive schemes) and aggressive organizing and elaborate corporate campaigns (against nonunion contractors and construction owners).
TheTruthAboutPLAs readers may remember Mr. Nelson from this Domestic Dispute in Big Labor’s House when the boss of the St. Louis Building and Construction Trades Council (BCTC) didn’t appreciate Nelson challenging Big Labor’s status quo.
You have to take your hat off to a man who isn’t afraid to take an honest look at Big Labor’s problems and come up with an effective plan to make its product more efficient and competitive.
Mr. Nelson, kudos for taking a stand and having the courage to address a problem that has been plaguing Big Labor for years. If these simple steps were executed, owners and merit shop contractors might be more inclined to utilize union labor.