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Contractors & Unions See Strong Growth on Horizon, But Labor Shortages Continue to Weigh on Industry

ARLINGTON, VA - Strong, stable growth. That's what union contractors, labor representatives and owner-clients project for 2019, even though craft labor shortages remain a problem for the union construction and maintenance industry.

This somewhat contradictory assessment - the best of times for business growth, the worst of times for finding qualified workers - is one of the key takeaways from the fifth annual Union Craft Labor Supply Study, recently released by The Association of Union Constructors (TAUC) in conjunction with the Construction Labor Research Council (CLRC). It is designed to give construction professionals an in-depth understanding of the current state of union labor supply in the construction and maintenance industry throughout the United States.


TAUC and CLRC utilized a rigorous scientific methodology to analyze more than 800 responses to a multi-question survey sent earlier this year to a cross-section of contractors, union representatives and owner-clients. The large sample size (an 8% increase over last year's survey) and carefully worded questions combine to make this one of the most useful labor supply reports available, and the only union-specific study focusing on construction and maintenance.

New to the study this year is an examination of two key issues: the impact of union craft labor availability on the bidding process, as well as how each of the 14 building trades unions affect it. Our goal is to provide the industry with an even more robust set of metrics.

TAUC and its partners in labor believe that a data-driven approach is the only way to achieve our shared goals of planning for the future and increasing union market share. Highlights of the study include:

Positive, Stable Growth Projections. Over three-fourths (76%) of the study participants project growth for 2019 in the construction and maintenance industry. This is up significantly from three years ago (58%) and down slightly from last year (78%). Union/labor representatives were the most optimistic about growth, while owner-clients were less sanguine. The civil industry was seen as having the strongest growth prospects, while the utility industry had the weakest outlook. In terms of geography, the New England, Middle Atlantic and Southeast regions were seen by respondents as having the strongest possibilities for business growth.

Shortage of Union Craft Labor Continues. Of those organizations reporting a labor shortage, the majority (54%) described the shortage as small, and only 15% reported a large shortage. About a third (31%) said they had either a surplus or the right number of union workers in their organization. Boilermakers, Carpenters & Millwrights, Heat & Frost Insulators and Iron Workers reported the most substantial shortages.

Impact of Labor Availability. Forty-four percent of contractors, subcontractors and construction managers said they did not bid on some work due to a shortage of union craft workers in their organization. The crafts impacting this the most were Electricians, followed by Plumbers, Pipefitters & Steamfitters, Iron Workers and Carpenters & Millwrights.

For more details on these highlights, download the complete report here.