I recently posted this comment on a TED string as my answer to the question as to whether union was better than non-union within the construction industry.
“Let me take this question to another level. I grew up in a construction family during the times when every single job was done union and all General Contractors still knew how to build with their own forces. Don’t let let my intro lead you to believe I’m pro-union however or for that matter open shop. I’ve got a long history and have worked in both sectors, in both Canada and the US as a card caring carpenter, estimator, project manager, executive and contractor at different times over the span of my four decade career. I’ve seen a lot; good, bad and ugly.
I’ve got lots of time on my hands now to reflect on questions like this one perhaps from an unbiased perspective. Further, as a writer who writes about organizations and the relationships that emerge from them, I can also shed some light on the organizational dynamics of unions and private contracting organizations having come from the bottom up to the top C level executive in a multi division major General Contracting organization. Unlike many executives in the industry I’ve worked in the field so I speak fluently in the language of construction, from corporate strategy to how people in the field feel about the people in the office.
Unions and management come from the same DNA. Both in theory, embrace the same overarching purpose, that is to build buildings for the end user, on time, on budget and to the highest standards of safety and quality. That’s the common interest which should always be the sacred trust that each individual from CEO to CSO honors. Except in rare and extraordinary cases, the system unfortunately does not support the conditions necessary to allow individuals such as labourers and carpenters or PMs and Supers for that matter, to feel that they matter to the outcome of their efforts in a personal and fundamental way. One marker of this malaise is if and how the financial rewards of earned profits are distributed. It also fails to recognize in many cases that on the job learning in both hard and soft skills is important and ultimately beneficial to increased productivity.The production system does not take into account the fact that more knowledge = more productivity because people are more apt to be happy when their brains are stimulated through a learning environment. Executives or managers who can’t or don’t facilitate on the job learning at any level, whether union or open shop are not leaders.
The construction system is comprised of many opposing interests; subsystems such as The Owner, The Designer, The Consultants, The Contractor, The Subs, The Unions and ultimately the End User. Think of these a separate bodies each with a head who is bent on control within competing and totally separate self interests. Within each body so to speak, there are individuals who not only want to feel that there is something in it for “me”, they NEED to be rewarded for the work they do to keep the system moving towards its stated goals in a healthy way. I don’t think the unheard voice is well represented by anyone who is in control, whether it is in the form of a union executive or a project executive unless they are decent, heartfelt, conscious people who care about those they represent and lead. Ask yourself how many of those you know on either side who possess such character traits and awareness. Sorry for the essay, but that’s the way my brain works. I could go into a lot more depth but the message is clear; The system as a whole does not work when there is a sense of perceived oppression by those below exerted from those above and it is devoid of a sense of common interest that transcends that of any one individual.
You can read more if you like at the following links;”