1. Industry
Send to a Friend via Email

Your suggestion is on its way!

An email with a link to:


was emailed to:

Thanks for sharing About.com with others!

You can opt-out at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy for contact information.

Discuss in my forum

Juan Rodriguez

Labor Unions: Is This the End?

By March 24, 2011

Follow me on:

The End of Labor Unions?


Union Workers by Greene/Ellis

Labor Union workers have been part of the construction industry for hundred of years. Recently, owners and developers are trying to use non-union workers in mid-size construction projects, instead of union workers to get their construction going. However, union workers are still used on mega projects, like the one being built over at World Trade Center.

Union workers were a symbol of the industry strength, but recent developments, and higher costs have turned union workers away from the owner's perspective, and they are trying to get their projects going with non-union workers. Historical data shows that at least 85 percent of building jobs were performed by union workers, but that number is dropping sharply, and things are not looking well for union labors.

For example, one union worker could be paid $46 an hour, and when you add benefits to this union worker it will skyrocket this rate to a total cost of $85. One significant change companies and contractors are trying to do is to reduce the rate paid for overtime work, right now being offered double pay. Construction companies want to reduce this total to time and a half, so they can reduce their construction costs, but that has to be agreed first with the union and their members.

Some construction companies are trying to establish that the workday starts when you arrive at your construction station, instead of arriving at the job site. For instance, if you are working on a level 60 of a skyscraper, your workday will start upon your arrival to that level, instead of arriving at the ground floor. The reason behind this: they say that a labor might take 30 or 40 minutes to reach the actual workstation and maybe another half-hour to descend at the end of their shift.

Employers are also facing opposition from several unions, although some of them have already agreed and adopted some changes. What could be next? Is this the end of the labor unions?


March 25, 2011 at 5:09 pm
(1) James Reid says:

Whether your a union contractor or a nonunion contractor you should pray that doesn’t ever happen.

Because without Unions in the construction industry its nothing more than a race to the bottom for everyone.

March 26, 2011 at 9:08 am
(2) Greg Bracken / FBC Construction Inc. says:

I have been a non union contractor by choice for 15 years. Even though I believe union workers are over paid, the problem isn’t them. They serve a very important role in enforcing safety and training on the job. I have seen first hand how large non-union glazing manufacturers that hold contracts on these large projects make hugh profits by hiring unqualified, untrained subcontractors. These subs are trying to make a living like everybody else, but they are doing it at the expense & safety of their untrained, unskilled labour force. I am one of the few non union contractors that went to the expense and effort to become certified in my trade and have made the expense to train and qualify my employees. When you are non union this comes at a great cost since we don’t get paid the same as union contractors. We need a governing body that ensures qualification and safety for all workers on all construction jobs. Good luck with that!

March 26, 2011 at 10:53 am
(3) Jerry Rudick says:

I grew up and ran my construction business in Youngstown Ohio, the heart of union country. In the 30ís the unions balanced the power of businesses that were exploiting the work force. The laws and regulations have changed so that the health, safety, handicap and discrimination problems that the unions brought to the bargaining table have been made into laws to protect the worker.

Steel was the industry in Youngstown. Until the mid-80ís there was no foreign competition for steel in the US. Because of lack of competition steel management didnít invest in plant and equipment and the union power guaranteed large wage and benefit increases to the worker. Japan had newer, modern plants (ironically paid by the US after WWII) and a qualified work force that was paid much closer to market value than US wages. When Japan was allowed to sell steel in the US they could make and ship steel to Youngstown for about Ĺ of what it took to make the steel in Ohio. As a contractor in Youngstown you didnít dare do commercial work unless you were union. No politician got elected unless they supported the unions. Because of the strict union anti-business attitudes few new businesses considered locating in Youngstown. The population has declined from 170,000 in the 1930ís to 66,000 now. The population is mostly older because there are no good jobs for younger workers so they move from Youngstown.

In my opinion the problem with unions is structural. If a union is voted in the union has a monopoly on the labor side. The employer canít go to several unions and ask for competitive quotes. As with any monopoly they force wage and benefit costs higher than market value thus making the employer uncompetitive. Strict work rules that force costs higher. The seniority rule that protects the older workers instead of the best workers is both unfair and economically costly. I think that unions have possibly outlived their economic usefulness.

March 27, 2011 at 6:52 am
(4) Joe Fernandez says:

Never hated unions until my non-union architectural woodwork company had to deal with them on projects in the city,
they work slow,… very slow and their craftsmanship is below par.
and their rate is double ours. On top of that their supervisors tell them to slow down until the work load goes into overtime so they can make more money. It is like they are promoting laziness in the work force.

March 28, 2011 at 12:26 pm
(5) Roland Cafaro says:

As a manager of Road-building firm in the midwest, it seems very clear that if the Labor Unions haven’t already outlived their economic usefulness their current activities in this economic climate certainly will. Not unlike the rest of the US, the Midwest has seen dramatic declines in construction, and with dramatic declines in construction comes a high volume of Laborers out of work, as individual locals (whose management is funded by its employed members) become financially challenged-rather than become more efficient (condense to fewer locals or one HQ, negotiate with developers etc ) they’ve resort to abusing their power over business owners through the Federal Government. Although signatory owners are not privy to the volume of lawsuits brought forth to the Fed District Courts, by the Unions we are certain that as the economy declines the volume of frivolous complaints soliciting monetary judgments from signatory companies is also increasing. There should be no correlation between the two, it can only be interpreted as ‘last ditch efforts’ by the management of individual locals to save their sinking ships, ships that no longer have a route or a purpose and should be encouraged to sink.

April 12, 2011 at 1:49 am
(6) Juliette says:

I’m an office manager for a general contractor in NYC and I’d have to say that I agree with most things you said. My company only does union work and the cost is extremely high. A journeyman ironworker gets paid an hourly rate of $43.30 an hour. On top of that their benefits cost $57.85 an hour. This wouldn’t be a bad rate to pay if you were getting good quality work out of it, however there isn’t much quality to the unions any more. I’m not saying that all union workers are bad because that is definitely not the case. I’d say more than half of the union workers are not worth the rate they get paid, therefore many contractors see no benefit in paying the union rate and this is what is causing so many contractors to go non-union. Union workers have to start showing they are worth it and less contractors will turn away from them.
I think contractors should think twice about this situation. In the future if we have non-union workers and non-union contractors designing and building our bridges and working on projects such as the World Trade Center we have a lot more to worry about than high union rates.

February 8, 2012 at 12:42 am
(7) Dennis says:

I love unions. They fight for what’s right. I’m not a union worker and I’m severely under paid, as well as put into dangerous situations daily. I’m always expected to work at a fully qualified level and also manage other workers whilst the boss sits in his comfy air conditioned car. I’m facing the dilemma of quitting my apprenticeship because i don’t earn enough. There isn’t enough work around and i’ve been sitting at home for 2 weeks straight now without pay. My only option is to join the union as there make sure we don’t get taken advantage of.

June 25, 2012 at 7:09 pm
(8) Dennis says:

I’m a union carpenter for 16yrs and seen a lot of changes. My boss doesn’t keep dead wood around. I don’t have the mentality of slow down into ot. But I know some that do and they don’t work for 16yrs straight.they slow down and another thing slows down the hooks in the buisness. I got in when I was 18 bought a house by 24 and renovated the whole house. I love the union and I love the fact that I can say I’m worth every cent that I get paid. But I’m not naive. We as a nation and a union have to think differently to compete.

September 24, 2012 at 2:10 pm
(9) Matf says:

I am a union Carpenter in Indiana local #413 and believe me when I say I am not overpaid. My wife and our one child live in a very modest home not to mention both of our vehicles are well over 10 years old one of which is currently broke down in our undersized one car garage. But yet if it weren’t for my wife also be employed (school teacher) we would have long been in the poor house. By the way before the comments our only debt is out mortgage., no credit cards or other loans.

December 6, 2012 at 10:45 am
(10) david lombardi says:

i am a 31 year member of the best local in the country. Local Union 475 Warren , New Jersey. if u like ur 40 hour week , thank the union. If u like ur weekend, thank the union. If u like ur rretirement payments thank the union. There r many more that people take for granite. Our forefathers in the union fought and died for our benifits we enjoy today. I have been blessed to have worked all over this great country. I have brothers and sisters where ever i go. Hard working union members. All proud of thier work and thier skills. Dont talk about unions unless u have first hand knowledge of what they r REALLY about. Peace and love to all my union brothers and sisters. union stronge and union PROUD!!!!!!

January 24, 2013 at 12:29 am
(11) Tina says:

I beleive and i am a union worker of the labours i have worked both sides when it comes to safety union is the best if it was not for us as union members nobody would be where there at and this is the comment about what the man said union workers make to much no we dont we make what we deserve and have benefits we have our scabbygovernment that rips and steals our tax papers dollars cost of liveing goes up and certainly we get no breaks government has a nice pention and why should we not were humans so honestly union members do make a difference

January 24, 2013 at 12:34 am
(12) Tina says:

Im a proud union worker and im only working union we deserve our wages our pention benefits our scabby government has it all and steal from us

March 7, 2013 at 8:14 am
(13) William Rininger says:

Our Country was built by union members who over a hundred years ago who working in unsafe and slavery styled environments with low pay and people were dying on the jobs at record rates. After the establishment of unions and there has been lessons learned along the way America had great growth in all industries due not only to other countries not being able to participate due to their labor practices and slavery labor of young children to women. Our country after ww2 grew in great strengths do to people not only during the war pulling together as a type of union but after the war our unions drove us forward. Until large corporation’s in their search for billions apon billions of dollars and greed moved companies out of the country and the US government depended on Saudi Arabia and Iraq nations to supply us with oil not using our own resources forcing the country into a gas crises. After our government backed corporation’s to move companies out of the country to make profits out Auto unions . Air traffic controllers. Farmers. and many other unions rather a family or a group of people were knocked out and or eliminated from our workforces across the country. conti……………………………….>>>

March 7, 2013 at 8:16 am
(14) William Rininger says:

Detroit fell and is now bankrupt people lost thousands of dollars in income to now work with wages that dis able them the past 40 years to educate and provide for their families. Due to this environment formed by Gov. and cooperate greed out country has over and over again fell into what is now the technical industries ups and downs which as we all know has come to a head and they our now threatening again and again of Gov. shut downs and stock market falls which at this point and time would cause another depression and place this country into the most violable state since the revolutionary war. We have illegal immigrant’s doing the work our children could start out doing with incomes to assist in their start in life. We have programs such as job source and un-employment services placing low educated untrained individuals in State and local and government jobs. These types of practices have created an unsafe and unproductive plus low paying poor quality of services being manipulated due to the un educated and un trained individuals performing these types of jobs. When I go to my local Title beau for the state of Ohio and the Vehicle inspector after viewing my Chevy red Silverado? Ask me if its an SUV or a Truck I get very discouraged that my government is really performing which by the past 30 years they have literally destroyed our abates and communities ability for good growth. Our country made good products in the 50-60s and now we make temporary products that families have to keep renewing every 4-5 years. Conti>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

March 7, 2013 at 8:19 am
(15) William Rininger says:

How do we survive and educate our children ond feed our families in trust when family incomes our reduced by over 60 percent after taxes. charges. fees, cost of living expense’s and banking rates continuously keeping everyone broke and in catastrophic debts on home loans colleges and other loans such as Auto. IF anyone’s paying attention a car union workers made you back in the 70 used to cost you 6-10k now that same vehicle cost 30-50k. So did getting rid of unions in Detroit do the country good ???????? .Our Military men and women depend on good quality built equipment.. And they are considered our hero’s which are a Union of Brothers but why is it a Union of workers isn’t respected after years of service to build our highways and bridges and cities pipelines etc. under command of trained individuals who challenged each other each day to do a good job> Now we have everyone just wanting and getting paid r to head to their 2nd job our children our un educated , raising themselves on a grand scale. and our lives our threatened dally by out government and corporate threats of shut downs and our military hero’s suffering not being able to pay their family bills (remember the man who killed Osama bin Laden)?

March 7, 2013 at 8:19 am
(16) William Rininger says:

This is the new America a broken country cause everyone has no voice and cares less and less about the company. Low pay foreclosures. Stock loses, bankruptcies. income debt ratios for 100s of millions of Americans our so bad people have lost faith in the system and government . Natural disaster areas have slow or no rebuild growth due to the un organized labor being performed by people that our just their for the money and get out. We have created a country which is and has been proof in to be quickly destroying its self by greed. Bring our people and companies back to America by voting UNION and Create a voice for workers who are trained and do care about the quality of work performed. That or Ill see you on the other side when our Hero’s become our enemies. So much destruction in the meaning of being AMERICA and what it means My comments have been posted in 4 sections so you should read the 3 ahead of this one in reverse. Thank you

March 19, 2013 at 11:50 am
(17) Mike Lloyd says:

Right, because we’re not at the bottom already with Union workers who cost twice the cost of a willful employee who has superior education, certainly more efficient, and at the end of the day, does a better job. If Unions didn’t rape their members with dues and the such, perhaps there would be a better balance. Get rid of ‘em.

May 19, 2013 at 7:02 pm
(18) Richard Slawson says:

Labor Unions are part of the fabric of this country. Unions negotiate wages, benefits and jobsite conditions for workers. Management is the partner in bargaining and negotiation of Union contracts. This system never had a negative effect on the American economy.

What has changed over the years is that businesses’ drive for every increasing profits has led to Union busting, outsourcing, terrible, and unbalanced trade agreements (the trade agreements are negotiated by Presidents and approved by Congress, so they know that Japan and Korea having a Trade Tariff on cars of 10 to 12% and the United States have a Trade Tariff on cars of 2% can’t work to the benefit of America) and a tax system that allows the wealthy to offshore their profits and income. When you have the Republican Party in a 70 year campaign to destroy Labor Unions, and Presidents like Reagan, who set the anti-union mindset in this country, you have to know that this is why Unions have lost membership and the middle-class has lost income.

The income and profits didn’t disappear, they simply accumulated with the already wealthy.

Labor Unions are the voice of working families. We need more Labor Unions not less is we are ever to turn this country around.

May 19, 2013 at 7:10 pm
(19) Richard Slawson says:

A Response to Mike Lloyd:

Why are you fretting about Union workers getting a decent pay rate. Don’t be jealous – Get a Union.

Union contracts require better wage, “twice the cost of willful employees.” If Unions raped their members “with dues and such.”, doesn’t mean anything – its just an un-thoughtful comment or a lie.

Union contracts do usually call for wages that are 30 to 50% more than the work without a Union contract might make. So Get Yourself a Union!

May 25, 2013 at 7:18 am
(20) David Kenitz says:

Corporate greed, and ownners not willing to raise minimum wage ! And unions are the problem? This country was built union ! Jobs going to mexico, Nike sneakers made for PENNIES and sold for over a hundred dollars ! Big SUV’s Made for a fraction of the cost ! I read where a chrysler exec asked why Jeeps suv’s are SO expensive? He said ” because people will pay” Union memebrs are paid FAIR Wage for a good days work ! Anything less is is more money in the owners pocket ! Thats why sports is paid so well ! The players understand the wealth should be shared ! I am PROUD to be UNION ! I’m trained and I bust my butt trying to make my contractor money because when he gets MORE work SO DO I ! ALL I WANT is to put food on my table and do an honest days work for a fair wage. Owners just want to buy a bigger boat , and I can’t even own one !

July 1, 2013 at 9:19 pm
(21) former helix employee says:

As a former employee of Helix Electric for 13 years all I csn say is that as a non union electrician I was put into managerial positions for a journeyman rate and in 13 years I never was awarded any paid time off at all. The non union world is full of people who would be glad to work 15 hours a day and let these foreign jewish contractors pay them for 7 “because that’s what the bujetcan afford”. Its not the union who is the bad guy. Its the guy who hasent enough balls to demand at leaste the bare minimum of what the law allows.

September 9, 2013 at 4:11 am
(22) kevin says:

Ive been a union carpenter in N.Cal since 77,i worked for a family owned home builder the1st 10 yrs,when all the devoplers came to no. calif. in the 80′s they hired mostly non union cont.,the co. I had worked for stayed union,until the mid 90′s cause they owned all the land free & clear,mostly paid for by home profits,home prices went way up in late 90′s,- 2005,union,non union,everybody made money,people that wanted to stay in union had to switch to commercial work & travel into S.F,OAKLAND,SAN JOSE AREA,so with 4 yrs till age 62,the last job i had in 2010 lasted 5mo.,2007 8 mo.,but i sold my home in 2001 thank god,moved to S.J. 2005 ,our wages are to high $39 hr. plus $23 benefits,so when 2010 job was over i moved back w/ 84 yr old mom till i work more than 2-3 mo a yr, our wages aren”t that great if you look at other people’s jobs in a annual basis ,i haven’t made 50k since 2007,thats 8 mo. wk. ,4 mo. unemployment,now when i work its 25-35 a day for gas,150 mo. union dues,it cost me $200 a week to go to work, its sad cause i love to work on schools-colleges,but govt. pays for that,along w/roads,bridges,freeways,etc.,we now how broke they are,so union-non union, they have to borrow money to do all this,i think every congressman & senator should take a 50k-100k drop in pay since they cant agree on anything,i would not even get in any const. if i was young,i hope next 4 yrs go by fast,so 50% of most union people are only working 4-5-6 mo. a yr in no. calif anyway,i cant wait to be 62.

November 10, 2013 at 6:10 pm
(23) Sick of Jobs going oversea says:

I’m a carpenter by trade and “proud” to be Non-Union. I have worked on both sides of construction projects I started my career in my family’s construction business which is non-union we specialized in custom homes but did a lot of commercial work as well. Since the economy is still struggling and especially where I live custom homes are obsolete in 2004 are area built over 2000 homes a year now were around 30. I now work for a larger commercial construction company as a Salaried Superintendent and to pay a guy $45 per hour plus another $40 in benefits and they can’t get out of there truck until 730am to start getting there tools out taking 45minute lunches 25 minute coffee breaks and leaving the site at 3:05 and they wonder why I get mad at them it’s pathetic on there part. There is no incentive for them to work hard because they already have the high wage so this is the garbage output you get! Don’t get me wrong here I’m all for paying a guy $45 an hour if they can put in a good days work. But to tack on additional $40 something an hour and give it a union agent to pay insurance, retirement, themselves, etc. is so ridiculous any business owner can provide the same service by simply making a couple contacts and lining up there employees with the appropriate professionals in insurance, investment services, etc. Guess what?? union people out there you just cut half off of your labor costs which is reflected your company’s work proposals and if you have a lower labor costs you become more competitive also known as “you don’t have to worry about milking the end of the summer” because you just made someone with another business the ability afford that new facililty they need built and now you have work! Let me ask the Pro-Union people on this thread a question: If you took a $5 dollar paycut an hour and put that towards your retirement to work year round don’t you think you would be much better off? Thanks to ObamaCare you have insurance what else do you need?

November 18, 2013 at 10:30 am
(24) Eddie says:

Iam a unon bricklayer and proud to have been one since 1991. I also have a degree Iin Project Management and am a certified Project Manager and
I have managed projects in several countries for 15 years. I understand both sides of the argument for and against. Unions have done a great deal of good in this country but I will be the first to tell you that overall their image needs an overhaul and to some degree some unions have started this overhaul. I can’t speak for all unions but I know I always worked hard for my pay and I can say that most of our members have as well. Of course you always have your slackers and it’s unfortunate that they give the majority a bad reputation but I guarantee that if you asked the thousands of construction workers in so called right to work states especially in the south where they are vastly underpaid with no benefits you can believe they would choose to belong to a union where they would have such benefits along with exceptional training in their craft and safety procedures. Times are changing for all industries and unions are not immune to this change. The days of protecting members at any cost are gone and for members who fail to go along with these changes are
getting left behind. That is why when I formed my contracting company I chose to make it a union company with the full support of my union in matters of drug testing, work expectations and the like. A good union is never afraid to implement changes in policy and move forward. The 1940′s are over but unions are still necessary, especially now to maintain some balance between the working and management/ownership.

November 18, 2013 at 10:41 am
(25) Eddie says:

Just one more note, a number of anti-union individuals have mentioned that union workers are overpaid and cost twice as much as a willing worker. Truth is, non union contractors/corporations charge just as much if not more as union contractors/companies and pay their employees substantially less so the pocket more. All of you pro non union individuals
should know the facts and understand the game before posting such baseless comments.

November 18, 2013 at 10:59 am
(26) David says:

A very thought provoking article. Of course all the rats and anti-union scabs post ridiculous comments about unions being the problem. It’s the government, both parties and their ridiculous policies, wall street and corporate greed that have ruined this country, not unions. But every time there’s an election we buy into all this crap and we elect morons who continue to spew the same poison and we buy into it. Wake up people! Why is it when corporations ban together we call it good business or good for the economy but when workers do it and form/belong to unions it’s called socialism or it’s considered evil and not good for the economy? People are brainwashed. Yes, not everything is good about unions but try working without one. We need them just as much as we need this rotten government and these greedy, currupt corporations. People in management shouldn’t even respond because we know where you stand, with your greedy, currupt bosses who pay you six figure incomes to squeeze every ounce of life and dignity out of your the workers. And you say union workers are overpaid?! Give me a break!

November 18, 2013 at 11:12 am
(27) David says:

Non-union construction workers are the most unskilled craftsmen I have ever seen. Their work is sub par at best and they take more risk. Our company had a job in TX (nothing but non-union scabs). Half of them couldn’t speak English. Seventy-Five percent were illegals and the bosses
were all gringos who made cuadrupal what the workers made. Not to mention the guys who claimed to be masons, some could only lay brick but not block and vice versa. I thought a mason could do it all. It’s all a part of the craft. Guys were unsafe because they did whatever the boss told them to do no matter how foolish it was because they knew if they didn’t they would loose their jobs. Talk about exploitation, and people will still say unions aren’t needed! Acccidents were off the charts, OSHA fines monthly. We were fighting a loosing battle. Needless to say that we never took another job in TX again.

November 18, 2013 at 11:24 am
(28) David says:

And to the “salaried superintendent” in post #23, what union guys do you have working in your area? All unions here require their workers to be on the job at least 5 min before start time so that they are working at start time. As long as I have been in this industry and working with unions I have never seen a guy leave his truck at start time and still have a job the next day. Hell, I’ve never even seen them start on that day. Biggest problem with the unions, especially construction trades is the lack of diversity, women (although a few unions here have gotten it right and are more diverse now than they have ever been) and youth.

November 18, 2013 at 5:57 pm
(29) Melissa says:

Amen to comments by Dave and Eddie. While unions do need an image overhaul they have been a vital part of American history and vital to the efforts of building this country. They are still necessary for the economy and providing good jobs with a liveable wage. They promote a certain stability in the middle class and balance out the powers that be. Without them we might as well return to the dark ages.

April 20, 2014 at 10:36 am
(30) best electronic cigarette uk says:

I absolutely love your blog and find almost all of your post’s to
be precisely what I’m looking for. can you offer guest writers to write content in your case?
I wouldn’t mind producing a post or elaborating on many of the subjects you write regarding here.
Again, awesome blog!

Feel free to surf to my web blog :: <a href=”http://www.instructables.com/member/jenni1980jaques/”>best electronic cigarette uk</a>

Leave a Comment

Line and paragraph breaks are automatic. Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title="">, <b>, <i>, <strike>
  1. About.com
  2. Industry
  3. Construction

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.