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General Presidents Wise, O'Sullivan talk union expansion

TAUC's 2011 Leadership Conference was held May 10-13 at The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. The annual event brought together 175 representatives from the contractor, building trades and owner-client communities to discuss the latest industry trends and hear from an A-list collection of experts on a variety of topics.

Iron Workers GP Walter WiseThis year TAUC was pleased to feature as speakers two building trades general presidents. Walter Wise, GP of the Iron Workers, gave attendees an update on his union's plans for the next several years. Wise outlined ongoing efforts to increase and modernize training opportunities for members. He also stressed the importance of getting individual ironworkers to think in terms of strengthening their competitive advantage in the marketplace. That means letting a co-worker know when they don't live up to quality or safety expectations on the job. "It's far more powerful when [workers] talk to one another and stand up for what's right," Wise said.

Wise also reiterated his commitment to an ambitious goal: double the Iron Workers' market share in 10 years. "With the creation of our Key Performance Indicators and the formation of IMPACT, we were on a great run from 2006-2008," Wise said. He believes his union can not only regain that past success, but exceed it. "We're going to expand our existing contractor work in low-density areas, and make sure there are areas where you can go in and secure that work," he pledged to the audience. "But we're also going to need more contractors, and we need them to go after small work that has been abandoned. We will also develop programs for our members so they are fully aware of what it means to go into contracting."

LIUNA GP Terence O'SullivanTerence O'Sullivan, General President of LIUNA, spoke on the second day of the conference. He covered a range of topics, from healthcare to immigration reform, and was characteristically blunt about the challenges currently facing his union: membership has dropped by roughly 30,000 over the past two years, and on average, work hours are down roughly 30% nationwide, with some regions, like Las Vegas, harder hit than others. Hours worked under the NMA program were also down about 7% in 2010 compared to 2009.

"Here's a very telling statistic: 81% of our construction membership lives in 14 states and one [Canadian] province," O'Sullivan said. With numbers like that, "we can't be a viable, long-term organization." Thus, LIUNA plans to spend roughly $250 million over the next five years on organizing. O'Sullivan noted that he has talked with Wise about planning some joint organizing efforts as well.

"We want to stay strong where we are [already] strong, and focus a lot of our organizing efforts on medium-, low- and no-density areas," O'Sullivan added.