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2013 Union Data Released


by Paige Townley


The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) recently released its annual union membership report, which revealed the union membership rate in the U.S. construction industry increased slightly from 2012 to 2013. According to the BLS, the union membership rate—the percentage of wage and salary workers who are members of unions—went from 13.2 percent to 14.2 percent of the U.S. private construction workforce, meaning construction unions gained 95,000 more members in a year-over-year comparison. These latest numbers show that only 915,000 workers out of 6.474 million in the U.S. private construction industry belonged to a union in 2013, BLS reported. Specifically in Alabama, of the 91,112 industry workers in 2013, 2,821 of them belonged to a union. That means just over three percent of the workers were union members.

Although union membership in private construction has sharply declined over the decades—as Ben Brubeck, director of labor and federal procurement, government affairs for ABC National noted, approximately 80 percent of its workforce was unionized in 1947—any increase in union membership could impact the policy debate over government-mandated project labor agreements (PLAs). “As they did during President Obama’s first five years in office, Congress and Obama administration officials beholden to Big Labor’s costly special interest agenda will promote PLA mandates and preferences on federal contracts to prop up construction union membership numbers by steering federal construction contracts to unionized firms to create jobs exclusively for union members,” Brubeck said. “While the negative impact of this policy on the merit shop contracting community has been muted by effective legal, legislative and public relations strategies executed by ABC and a coalition of industry groups opposed to government-mandated PLAs, billions of dollars worth of federal and federally assisted construction projects have been needlessly subjected to government-mandated PLAs.”

While President Obama’s Executive Order 13502 only encourages federal agencies to require PLAs on projects costing more than $25 million on a case-by-case basis, PLA requirements are permitted on federally assisted projects and there is concern PLAs could become more widespread. The fear among many in the industry is that President Obama might enact Section 7 of the executive order before he leaves office as a payback to his union supporters. “Lowering the current $25 million threshold, or expanding the order to aggressively push PLAs on federally assisted projects, would expose a much larger portion of the construction industry to PLA threats,” Brubeck said. “PLAs, on average, increase the cost of construction between 12 percent and 18 percent compared to similar non-PLA mandated projects. With the added cost premium of anti-competitive PLAs, there is less construction money available. Because less construction money means fewer total construction projects and construction jobs, union-favoring PLAs could make unemployment in the construction industry even worse. Qualified nonunion employees deserve just as fair a shot to feed their families as union members. In addition, taxpayers deserve the wide use of taxpayer dollars to improve schools, bridges and hospitals.”

ABC of Alabama has been proactive on the PLA issue, working with legislators in 2014 to prohibit government-mandated PLAs in Alabama. Sponsored by Senator Paul Sanford and Representative Mack Butler, the bill, which just recently passed, makes Alabama the 19th state in the U.S. to ensure fair and open competition in public works contracting. “If PLAs were mandated on public construction projects in Alabama, it would make it almost impossible for the more than 95 percent of Alabama’s construction workforce to compete for projects that are funded by their own tax dollars,” said ABC of Alabama President Jay Reed. “We need to ensure that all construction companies are treated fairly and that projects will be awarded based on cost and merit, not politics.”

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