Should I Go Union?
Hi mike, my name is Charlie, and I own Ace Electrical Service (made up name) in South Florida (made
up location). I just spent the weekend watching your estimating videos and it was great. I am writing
to ask you your thoughts on the industry's labor problems. First, I will tell you a little about myself,
I was trained properly as an electrician in Massachusetts and I ran my own company there for 16 years
and had good help. I have had my own company here in Florida for 4 years and the help seems to be
getting worse. I have always been nonunion.
My company does commercial buildouts and service. I am having
trouble finding good electricians and have spent a fortune on advertising for help. It is not a money
or benefits problem, I pay high wages; provide paid vacations and health insurance at no cost to my
employees. But today It is hard to find a person with a good drivers license, never mind electrical
skills and in this economy, the wages are not far off the local union scale.
I am thinking of a possible change to a union shop to get skilled
labor, and I have spoke to the local union business agent (BA). Please write back and tell me your
thoughts on this issue. A company is only as good as its people are and I need some good people.
Response No. 1
My personal experience (after 25 years in building trades) indicates
that IBEW is good at maintaining the proficiency standards of its membership. Depending on the nature
of the agreement with the Local, you may be better served as a signatory contractor, as the available
labor pool is already graded.
Response No. 2
Dear Charlie, I am a supervisor for a local union shop in Oregon.
We run a shop of twenty electricians’ and do industrial, commercial large and small, some residential
and service. I run commercial jobs and the help out here is not very good. Last year our shop went
union for the labor so we did not have to baby-sit.
I have meet lots of good hands over the years and one thing I
have learned is that trying to find an employee that is willing to learn, stay in a good mind set
is hard to come by. In the last year, I developed a team of employees that I hope to have on my crews
for time to come. I gathered them through the halls and learned that the union does not deal with
the slackers, and the schooling for the apprentices is top notch. I am not a business owner but I
look out for the well being of the bosses. I believe that the union is the best way to go for the
labor you need and the skills. However, one thing before going into the union, go talk to a local
Jason Local 280 From: Sully271@cs.com
Response No. 3
I am a Union Electrician and a Union Electrical Contractor (never
been nonunion). I have known some nonunion contractors that have become union and they said that they
should have done it sooner. They cannot believe that all they have to do is show the men the job and
then just make sure that the checks are there once a week. No more going to the job in the morning
making sure that everyone is working and then being there at quitting time to make sure that everyone
has worked all day. Yes, it does involve some extra paperwork but no more time then it takes to baby-sit
a job. In addition, you can be assured that the job is done right the first time and on time.
Response No. 4
The labor market is very tight, not only for electricians but
also for the other trades. I am a plant engineer in Williamsport PA and former Master Electrician
from New York. Therefore, I am familiar with your problem. I can give you two suggestions.
1. Look at the possibility of hiring older and retired or semi-retired
experienced electricians who would like to work. Offer them flexible schedules. Team them up with
younger less experienced people who would like to learn the trade or improve their skills.
2. Contact some of the technical schools and recruit students
who will be graduating this spring.
James a. Blake, Plant Engineer, Jim_Blake@coplac.be
Response No. 5
If you sign with the Union, what makes you think your going to
get qualified help? When you call the hall for help, what do you think you are going to get? In this
shortage of help, do you think the union has people waiting for work? I have been union and nonunion
and there is no difference in the work force. Good bodies are hard to come by. People that are on
the books (waiting at the hall for a job) all of the time, and they are there for a reason, and it
is not hard work, or job knowledge. If you sign with the union these are the people you are going
to get. Good people stay employed, and good contractors bend over backwards to keep them.
Have you considered a large hiring bonus, contingent on a contract
based on employment duration, job skills, coming to work everyday? Anyway I wish you luck at whatever
venue you chose. Educate, and be safe.
Response No. 6
I too am having trouble getting qualified help, as well as people
without restrictions on driving. I was trained union and worked union for 6+ years; I have seen the
best of them and the worst of them. I have not signed an agreement with the union yet, due to my limited
Response No. 7
As a general contractor, the biggest problem I see in the industry
is the lack of a well-trained workforce.
In my area, which is Las Vegas, twenty years ago residential
construction was totally union. Over the this period of time the Home Builders have become largely
nonunion and as a result, I see less and less skilled labor in the industry.
I have concluded that without an experienced construction workforce,
we are building entire developments of inferior housing. When the Union had a strong presence in the
Industry, we had a well-trained labor force. As it stands today, the work force is unskilled and unqualified.
This is reflected in the quality of new construction today. Poor
workers, equals poor supervisors, equal Poor Quality.
Richard Franklin, Las Vegas, Nevada
Response No. 8
Charlie, I was pleased to see your interest in joining the I.B.E.W.
as a contractor. I have worked out of Local #24 jurisdiction of Baltimore for the last 18 years. I
believe the Unions in this country are the backbone of our industry and their apprenticeship is superior
and the best. Craftsmanship, through apprenticeship is what has made this country a world leader and
let me welcome you in your decision to work Union and live better.
Steven Suresch, Electrical Services
Response No. 9
I am an 11-year member of the I.B.E.W and a general supervisor
for Morrow-Meadows Corp. one of the largest contractors in the country. My only experience with nonunion
labor is working along side them on large jobs where they have some of the work. I can tell you from
talking to their supervisor, you are not alone in you labor problem. Although there are many very
good electricians that have never been part of the union (some have come to work for me)!
For the most part, the nonunion electricians that have been organized
(that I have had experience with) lake proper training to perform quality installations. Maybe this
is a product of California not requiring electricians to be licensed, I do not know.
What you will find in the I.B.E.W is some of the most knowledgeable
and well-trained men in the industry. Like everything, there are things you will not like, but I think
it is a move you will not regret. Good luck!
Nick Oliver, ZIGNICK@aol.com
Response No. 10
The problem finding qualified workers is not unique. Good workers
are probably working for an older company with some long-term benefits. The problem is trying to woo
them from a long-term position. Money is not always the carrot that works. Even the closed shops (Union)
are having a problem getting and keeping their people. I am affiliated with a small shop and we have
been looking for "the Right man (person)" for over 14 months to run another service truck,
they are hard to find.
Response No. 11
I work for the state of Oregon as an electrician and did my apprenticeship
through the local nonunion committee. The first two years was a total waste of my time and my employer’s
time because nothing was taught and very little learned in class. My second two years was a little
better because the committee brought in a commercial company to oversee the classes, but it still
left a lot to be desired. When I turned out (graduated) and got my journeymen license I immediately
joined the committee as an employee member.
As time progressed, things started to turn around as far as accountability
and ethics. Only because of involvement from other apprentices who also got involved when they finished
as well as concerned employer members. Therefore the bottom line is: The training is only as good
as the people "involved" in it and the instructors teaching it.
Response No. 12
I am a nonunion electrician, in Southern California. I have been
nonunion for 20 years, and the only suggestion, is for this contractor to lookup the Associated Builders
and Contractors association (ABC). They have an excellent training program. Present employer required
DMV report and drug test before employment. All my co-workers are very professional and helpful. The
contractor I work for has an average work force of 70 electricians.
Response No. 13
We had the same problem at our company about 2 years ago. We
adopted a program where our employees would be paid for referring good prospective employees to the
Laborers that wanted to become electricians $100.00
1st and 2nd year apprentices $200.00
3rd and 4th year apprentices $300.00
Journeymen or Master Electricians $500.00
These people would have to make it through their 90-day probation
in order for the referring person to be paid. In addition, the person referring an individual had
to be held responsible for the person being referred. This seems to have solved our situation as we
are constantly having referred people calling and getting on our waiting list to be hired.
This program has taken our company from 40 employees to just
over 100 in the past two years. In addition, we feel that we have the best group of employees that
we have ever had. We also require our apprentices to attend school and we reimburse them 100% of their
tuition for receiving an "A" grade and 70% for a "B" grade. We reimburse them
nothing for a "C" grade and put them on notice that they have the following quarter to get
their grades in line or they leave.
We have also found that further training in addition to the apprentice
program helps a lot. We take care of that training here in our shop facilities. As for going to the
union or joining the union to get qualified help, they are having the same problems with their people.
Anyone that says differently is not being truthful.
Bradley F. Stevens, Arco Electric Inc.
Response No. 14
Welcome to the club buddy.
Mike Holt’s Comment: This is my favorite comment.
Response No. 15
I am a retiree from the IBEW, 50 years in the trade; I am now
a Contract/Inspector. I would give anything to be able to start over in the trade, with the present
technology. I am disappointed in the attitude, of many workers today; I suppose it has something to
do with the economy. I hate to compare with the old clichés, like, " Times were tough in my day,
and we had to perform to keep our job". However, maybe this is affecting the entire work force,
when jobs are more available.
The IBEW has a good training program; some Independent Contractor
Organizations also have programs. Many of the programs are options of the individual, to improve their
proficiency. My State has a licensing law, requiring continuing education. I have seen many, sleeping
through the class. My personal call would be to go for the IBEW choice. There is a more qualified
worker, available. Also, consider adopting a company-training program, in specialized areas. Communicate
and inform, is the key to educating the workforce.
Response No. 16
I too am a small contractor performing the same kind of work
as the writer. After running into the same type of problems as he, I decided to talk with the local
(IBEW Local 595), I found that the process was very straight forward, and although it took me several
months to final decide to organize, I did. I am very happy to report that this was a wise decision.
Now, I have access to a SKILLED labor pool as well as continuing education courses for myself.
Ed Broome, California
Response No. 17
This subject is obviously one of great importance to this person.
However, his question is not one that can be answered simply. As a consultant, I have helped several
contractors make that decision. I have expertise in management-union affairs. I spent five years as
a union representative and have spent fifteen years as a management representative. My master's thesis
was on the topic of conflict and labor unions. Locally, I am considered an expert on subject of union
versus non-union conflict in the construction industry. He may call me if he would like to discuss
his dilemma. My daytime phone number is 419-729-7754. I know that I will be able to help him to understand
some of the main advantages and disadvantages to each alternative. I support both union and non-union
firms equally. I make every effort to remain unbiased in my assessments.
Response No. 18
I would be glad to put this person in touch with the NECA chapter
in his area, for more information.
BROOKE STAUFFER, Director, Codes, and Standards
National Electrical Contractors Association, (301) 215-4521