Tripartite in Tucson: TAUC Makes the Case for Union Construction at CURT Conference
How many partners does it take to explain the unique cost-saving benefits of union construction's tripartite approach? Three, of course!
Leaders from TAUC, along with representatives from the labor and owner-client communities, traveled to Tucson on Nov. 12 to deliver a lively educational presentation at the Construction Users Roundtable National Conference in Tucson, Arizona. Panel presentation at CURT
TAUC CEO Steve Lindauer and President Tom Felton (President of MC Industrial) were joined by Tom Householder, Managing Director of Labor Relations for American Electric Power, and Kevin Hilton, CEO of the Ironworker Management Progressive Action Cooperative Trust (IMPACT). The panel presentation, entitled "Strengthening Owner Performance Through the Tripartite Approach," aimed to educate potential clients unfamiliar with union construction by showing how the tripartite model works in real-world situations and dispelling old-fashioned myths about our industry.
Tom Felton began by describing his recent visit to a meeting of the Lima, Ohio Building and Construction Trades Council, where the tripartite philosophy was on full display. Local owners, contractors and labor reps met for lunch, and each party gave updates on manpower levels and progress on current projects in the area. "The great thing is, we were able to sit around and have great, open communication not only about today, but about what's coming down the road in the future," Felton pointed out. "We're successful because we plan very well, but you can't plan without communication…[and] there was no griping or complaining at the meeting. That, to me, is what [the tripartite model] is all about."
Felton stressed that tripartite communication at the beginning of a project - especially through pre-job meetings - can pay financial dividends for an owner. "The worst thing that can happen on a project is to have something come up that you're unprepared for," he said. "Then you're scrambling around trying to get contractors and manpower to fill the gap. That's why having that open communication [up front] is so valuable. It allows us to plan and to be successful."
L-R: Tom Felton, Kevin Hilton, Tom HouseholderWhen asked how owners benefit by communicating directly with labor - a key feature of the union construction tripartite model - Kevin Hilton put it this way: "It's very simple. It's about mitigating risk." He pointed to the audience. "Who here wants to take on a super-risky project? Who here wants to take millions, even billions of dollars and say, 'Wow, let's just roll the dice'? No one. You want to know the answers before that first shovel hits the ground. And this is the forum to make that happen."
Hilton acknowledged that some owners are still hesitant to engage with labor and give union construction a try. One way to change that attitude is to show clients the clear advantages of partnering with organized labor and union contractors, especially in the crucial area of manpower. He gave several examples where the Iron Workers invested significant time and money into new training facilities to make sure owners had qualified workers for their projects. It's a market-driven approach, one that benefits not only the clients but the local communities.
"We can recruit and train that local workforce," Hilton said. "There are very few areas in North America where [the Iron Workers] have a problem recruiting people. Where else can you get an entry-level job that pays $25 an hour? We offer not just the job, we offer the career. But the biggest element is educating the owners. We need to break down the barriers and show them that the unions can provide the conduit to the resources they need."
Moderator Steve Lindauer, TAUC CEOSpeaking as a long-time union construction client, AEP's Tom Householder said that adopting a tripartite business model has helped his company maximize the money it spends on large projects. "We decided that the key was communication," he told the audience. "When you can solve issues in the conference room as opposed to out on the jobsite, where emotions are running high, that's always going to be beneficial to your project."
Felton added that communication inevitably leads to productivity gains. Meeting weeks and months in advance of the project start date, the tripartite team is able to map out every aspect of the job. If a certain number of specialty welders are going to be needed, for instance, the pre-planning gives unions the time to find the right workers or, if necessary, provide additional training to their members so that when the job starts, everyone is qualified and ready to go.
"In the next three to five years, we're going to face a tremendous challenge from a labor availability standpoint, union and non-union alike," Felton said. "If the work comes in like the experts are talking about, we're all going to be struggling to find qualified workers. The only way we can solve the problem is to get all three parties at the table and discuss it. We can't go off on our own and expect to come up with a solution."