The Building Trades – How We Work
The Building Trades work in a multi-employer environment. Each union negotiates a contract called a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with a contractor association. Through this multi-employer bargaining arrangement, each signatory contractor has access to pools of highly skilled workers on demand. Our signatory contractors quickly hire and lay off workers according to the demands of each construction project.
At the onset of their careers, construction workers make the choice to either work for a single non-union contractor, or to apply to a Building Trades union apprenticeship program and start a career in the union construction industry. (Currently, union-affiliated apprentices outnumber non-union apprentices 8 to 1 in Indiana.) In the union apprenticeship programs, apprentices earn a progressive scale of wages over time while receiving both on-the-job and classroom training. After four to five years of apprenticeship training, which varies by trade, an apprentice graduates and receives journeyperson status and most often an associate’s degree in construction technology through Ivy Tech Community College.
The multi-employer CBA allows each contractor to utilize the three most valuable assets of the Indiana Union Construction Industry: the jointly-administered apprenticeship programs, the union hiring halls, and the jointly-administered pension and health & welfare funds. Our contractors are able outsource all of these HR functions to the jointly-administered industry trusts, thus saving the contractors’ HR costs by taking advantage of economies of scale that come with the buying power of managing these functions as an industry.
Training: Through the apprenticeship schools, the Indiana Union Construction Industry spends over $42 million a year on apprenticeship and journeyperson upgrade training, thus giving contractors access to the most highly skilled craftspeople in the country.
Hiring: Union contractors rely on the union hiring halls to meet their manpower needs, sometimes quadrupling a workforce with only a few hours’ notice. The union hiring hall is responsible for identifying and dispatching members who are immediately available for work with requisite contractor-specified skills and certifications. By using the union referral systems, a signatory contractor can obtain the necessary workforce to quickly man projects without the need for constant in-house recruiting and training.
Portability of Benefits: As wages, pension and health & welfare benefits are uniform under the CBA, Building Trades members can move from employer to employer with no disruption in benefits. This includes moving across geographic boundaries as demand for major construction work ebbs and flows – hence the term “journeyperson.”
Scalability: Because signatory contractors have access to the union hiring hall, they have the ability to quickly expand and contract the size of their respective workforces as work dictates. Signatory contractors can man multi-million dollar projects as they are awarded bids. Contractors can access a large workforce of specialized trades in an emergency situation (e.g., an unplanned outage at a power plant; the September 11, 2001, dispatch of construction workers to New York City’s World Trade Center.)
The productivity factors that are embedded in the Building Trades (e.g., productivity trumps seniority, the ability to quickly expand and contract the size of workforce as projects dictate, etc.) and the efficiencies achieved through rigorous apprenticeship programs are what give our union contractors the edge. Together with our signatory contractors, we make the Indiana Union Construction Industry both competitive and successful in the market place. This value is passed on to the construction user every day through cost savings, bringing construction projects to completion on time and within budget.