Labor Day finds unions strong beyond numbers
By Tim Craw and Francis Callahan
BOSTON — On Labor Day, it’s common to take stock of the latest employment and job creation data. Equally important is asking what kind of jobs are being created. Not all jobs are created equal. Not all jobs provide the kinds of training, wages, and benefits that allow workers to actually build a career or to support a family.
In fact, on this holiday, we must challenge ourselves to think not just about jobs — but about opportunity.
Yes, we want to increase the number of jobs overall — particularly in key sectors such as construction — but the labor movement is ultimately about protecting and strengthening the American ideal of providing opportunity. While some anti-worker think tanks would prefer to see unions wiped off the map, the numbers show that fortunately their myopic vision is not reality — especially in the state’s vital construction industry.
The construction industry is one of the largest employment sectors in the Massachusetts economy. The industry as a whole generates 149,000 jobs annually, including administrative positions and an approximate total of 120,000 construction production jobs. Unions affiliated with the statewide Massachusetts Building Trades Council have a combined membership of 100,400 members. Over 75,000 of those members work directly in construction in Massachusetts – making building trades union membership one of the largest drivers of the Massachusetts economy.
Unions within the Mass Building Trades Council provide comprehensive healthcare and training benefits to their members, and are making significant progress towards achieving greater representation for women and people of color in the building trades.
While corporate special interests and their extremist think tanks attempt to pit workers against each other in a race to the bottom, construction industry unions serve as a backstop against such thinking. The unions in our industry help lift up our economies and fuel local business through a strong reserve of middle class jobs.
In Berkshire County, there is very high demand for local skilled tradespeople — with union members seeing near 100 percent employment. Some of the projects we are working on that are helping to drive local economy include Mt. Greylock Regional School, I-90 bridge repairs, Taconic High School, Tanglewood Learning Center, the Williams College Science Center, as well as Berkshire Community College’s Hawthorne and Melville Halls.
In addition to providing secure employment opportunities for our members we are introducing wage theft regulation throughout Berkshire County to ensure that all workers are paid for the work they’ve done. “Wage theft” comes in many forms such as forcing workers to work off the clock, misclassifying employees as independent contractors, writing bad pay checks or simply not paying workers. Wage theft costs hardworking Massachusetts residents an estimated $700 million each year in stolen and unpaid wages while robbing law-abiding businesses of the opportunity to compete on an even playing field.
The unions of the Massachusetts Building Trades Council also provide a significant source of professional training in Massachusetts. According to recent data, affiliates of MABTC spend over $42 million annually on training. With over 30 training facilities containing 206 classrooms around the state, these apprenticeship programs also employ more than 400 people as instructors, rivaling many of the state’s largest and most prestigious colleges and universities. They currently represent over 6,250 active apprentices. Over the last five years, affiliates have provided free training to 24,000 journeymen.
Building Trades unions are continuing to provide opportunity for folks of diverse backgrounds while non-union contractors unsurprisingly lag behind the times.
Of women and people of color in apprenticeship programs in the building trades, over 91% of women are in union programs and over 89% of people of color are in union programs according to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
We’re also reaching out to military veterans. Our Helmets to Hardhats program has placed 575 veterans into union apprentice programs since 2007 in Massachusetts alone. Nationally, that number is over 25,000 placements since 2003.
On this Labor Day, we should celebrate everything that unions and union members continue to contribute to our communities and our economy. In 2017, Massachusetts building trade unions are helping to ensure that as many jobs as possible become not just careers, but also pathways to dignity, health, and prosperity for working families.
To appreciate and safeguard the contributions that the labor movement makes to society, we must acknowledge that every job, like every worker, should be viewed and con sidered as more than just a number.
Tim Craw is president, Berkshire Building Trades Council. Francis Callahan is president, Massachusetts Building Trades Council.