In August, I spoke at the SMART Business Agents’ Meeting. Following are excerpts of my remarks from this meeting or listen to the entire speech here.
I’ve spent much of the past 40 years doing what business agents and managers do—working very hard to put people to work, to find jobs, to grow. Unfortunately, our nonunion competition is also growing. The challenge for us is to outdistance them. It is time to plant a stake and grow at an accelerated pace.
It’s impressive what we can do when we work together. In the area of pension reform, labor and management have joined forces to fulfill a promise that was made to people who entered this industry and worked a lifetime with an expectation that upon retirement, they would have a secure future. That is not a promise we can fail on. I’m proud to say SMACNA has taken an aggressive role in pursuit of legislative victory. I thank Joe Sellers and your SMART team for the powerful support and leadership demonstrated by the building trades in our mutual pursuit of that agenda.
I grew up in Iowa, where fences were necessarily built to contain livestock. But fences were also built around corn and bean fields. Today you see fewer and fewer fences, less boundary lines. Much like our industry has done, fences were built to define territory, to limit movement and activity.
I’m not a big fan of fences. I realize in some areas of the country, fences have been artfully constructed...I recognize that in some markets they’ve helped retain our market; in some cases, they may have helped to grow our markets. In much of the country, like the Midwest area I’m from, fences are a barrier to growth. If we can’t figure out whether to build a fence, we should ask what our customer thinks, because ultimately, the customer will decide whether they like fences or not.
I think surprises are great if they come at Christmas or birthdays. Surprises in labor relationships are generally not a good thing. To have a lack of surprise involves building trust.
In order to build trust with each other we have to talk—frequently, and not just when we have problems. Over time, we begin to understand each other as individuals. I encourage each of you to reach out and begin that process of eliminating surprises in your relationship—of building trust between you and your contractors.
On the Gulf States Council
Contractors are paying attention to the regional Gulf States Council. I’ve had some contractors ask me if this is something that will happen in their area. From the tone of the question, I can tell this is not something they want. Let me suggest that if it results in increased market share or growth in man-hours that outdistances our nonunion completion—most would agree that would be a positive outcome. I am hopeful the Council is successful.
I work in a company (The Waldinger Corporation) that has a powerful growth agenda. I can tell you that our company can’t grow in a vacuum. Nor can we grow in a shrinking market. There is a saying, “A rising tide lifts all boats.” I want all union contractors to grow. If I hope to increase my market share, first I must increase my market share of union work. And then I must also get work from my nonunion competition.
On Wage Equalization
Wage equalization is the second item to which contractors pay attention. Every collective bargaining agreement has wage equalization. I believe we agree on the need to arrive at a template—a mutually satisfactory template—for calculating the effect. I’m encouraged that SMACNA’s Labor Management Committee and representatives from SMART are meeting to work together on a solution.
You can receive guidance, support, coaching, and resources from SMART, and in my case, from SMACNA. But at the end of the day you own the local agenda. The success in your market is dependent heavily on you. How well you recruit, how well you organize, how well you retain, and the power of the relationship you build with the contractors who put people to work. I appreciate the opportunity to be here this morning to share these thoughts with you.