Construction can sometimes be a fulfilling and dangerous job, which is what led to the emergence of construction unions in the United States. All construction departments now have unions that cater to trades like masons, carpenters, electricians, roofers, and more. What are the benefits of joining a construction union?
Some of the benefits of a construction union include easy access to job opportunities, access to pension plans, and members eligible for training, leading to increased pay and benefits, unlike non-members.
How did construction unions begin in the United States? Read on to learn more about the history of construction unions, benefits of joining a construction union, and some construction trades that have unions.
The History of Construction Unions
Construction unions were popular in Europe due to organizations like Medieval Europe’s Trade and Crafts Guild. It was not until 1935 when the Federal Labor Relation Act was passed, which led to the founding of collective bargaining rights for workers in the United States.
The construction unions grew from that point to include skilled tradespeople like roofers, masons, carpenters, plumbers, electricians, and more.
As a construction worker in a union, you benefit from the collective bargaining power. The union negotiates with your employer on your behalf. As the only person, you may not be able to request better working conditions, more training, increased safety measures, or better pay. However, as part of a union, you have the visibility and power to get the changes implemented.
Construction unions join together with workers to ensure their voices are heard and incorporated as part of the union’s goal. The members are tasked with electing representatives whose work is to bring their concerns to the union’s attention.
2. High Wages
Being a construction union member gives you access to more high paying jobs as people deem you skilled, especially if you have gone through the apprenticeship program. Also, construction companies and builders are willing to pay more if you are in a construction union. The best part is that being part of a union means that construction workers benefit from the union’s set pay standards and workplace protections.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics carried research that showed the weekly median earnings of union employees stood at $1004 in 2016, while the figure stood at $802 for nonunion employees. Good pay means a better quality of life for the union members.
3. Protection From Unjust Dismissal
Being part of a construction union protects you as an employee from unjust dismissal. That is because the union and your employer sign a collective bargaining agreement. You cannot be fired without a justified cause. Nonetheless, if you are not part of a union, that means you are an at-will employee who can be terminated at any time without any reason.
4. Predictable Hours
Being under a union binds you under union contracts that set predictable schedules, overtime and shift premiums, and standard work hours. Nonunion members are not under any contract, which means they are not under predictable schedules and may not receive overtime or shift premiums.
5. Quality Training
Joining a union gives you access to quality training from some of the best in the trade. When you join an apprenticeship program, you get to learn the ins and out of your preferred industry, which includes simulated workplace environments and classroom learning. You get to learn creative concepts in construction and building techniques. That is an advantage you will not have access to this free training and resources.
Moreover, construction unions have nationally and state-recognized apprenticeship programs that determine their craftspeople’s required education and training. Most of these programs run for four years, which is the same length as a bachelor’s degree in regard to completion time.
Training is offered in trades like roofing, carpentry, bricklayers, plumbing, operation engineering, masonry, and other crafts. That means you can choose what you would like to pursue.
6. Guaranteed Equality
Another advantage of a construction union is that compensation is made equitable overall. That means there is a less wage gap for racialized workers, young workers, and women. Also, low paid workers get to enjoy higher wages. Construction unions are now popular for increasing equality across the industry.
7. Pensions and Other Benefits
More than 70% of construction union members have access to a workplace pension. Being a union member also gives you health benefits. Nonunion members have no guaranteed pensions or access to other benefits.
8. and Political Action
Construction unions have made a way to enhance conditions for their workers. Union members benefit from the collective power of going on a strike. They can protest about the work conditions or the pay. Strikes can also be used as a bargaining chip during management negotiations. Nonunion employees do not have the opportunity to go on a strike and may end up losing their jobs in the process if they strike.
9. Health and Workplace Safety
Joining a construction union gives you the advantage of being in a safer work environment. Research shows that unionized workplaces are safer with 17% few mobility impairments, 30% lower critical injury claims, and 23% low lost-time claims. That is because those in the union undergo safety and hazard training and are aware of the dangers present. This makes the workplaces safe.
Also, when labor costs more, employers have to invest more in equipment and training, which boosts productivity and workplace morale. A lack of union representation means the employees have no one to intervene on their behalf regarding safety issues.
When unions and employers cooperate, that leads to the organization as employees understand the need to have an effective, productive, and safe workforce. They do this through the use of better equipment, training, and using the knowledge acquired efficiently.
10. Workplace Democracy
Construction unions provide a democratic organization where workers can affect changes at their workplace and in their communities.
11. Worker Productivity
According to Jobs With Justice, being under unionized operations leads to improved productivity due to reduced worker turnover. That is because those in a union are experienced and stay on the job, which means no newbie mistake that could result in reduced productivity.
Jobs With Justice noted that union organization in the manufacturing sector saw a 24% improvement, the hospital sector led to a 16% productivity increase, and the construction sector experienced a 38% increase in productivity increase.
12. Formalized Communication
Being part of a union establishes a formal line of communication between the management and construction workers. That provides an effective way to raise issues and have them solved amicably.
Having a consistent communication channel enables workers grievances to be resolved before they become bigger problems that affect workplace productivity and morale. Employers also understand how to deal with a problematic worker as they now have the guidelines on how to articulate the problem, communicate solutions, and discipline the employee.
Union members also benefit from the union’s discussion of any significant changes with the employer before they happen. The union representatives are responsible for sticking up for workers in these discussions. This mode of communication makes it easy for employees to relate well to their employers.
13. Provision of General Advice and Support
As a member of a union, you are entitled to professional advice from the union. They educate the members on their rights. Workers also get advice on career decisions and work-related things; the support and information given come in handy as nonunion members hardly get this support.
14. Rewards and Benefits
Construction unions have access to scholarships, loyalty reward programs, and more benefits for members and their families. Members are also entitled to health insurance, which becomes a boost for anyone with an ailing family.
How to Join a Construction Union
Joining a construction union comes with various benefits. If you’re looking to join a union, you can do so through:
The Apprenticeship Path
The apprenticeship path is the most common way of becoming a construction union member. That happens through union-sponsored apprenticeships. You will need to enroll in an apprenticeship through a union, acquire the training for a trade that you like, and get a salary during the training period. In the end, you will be eligible for union membership.
Apprenticeships can take two to four years and involve combining classroom instruction with on-the-job training in a particular trade like carpentry or plumbing. Joining an apprenticeship program not only gives you free education, but you also get certified as a skilled tradesperson and become eligible for pay and union membership.
You can find the state or regional offices for the national construction trade unions that take apprentices. The Department of Labor provides information on the open construction apprenticeships and the standards these unions are expected to meet. A visit to the labor offices will give you the resources you need to enroll in construction trades training programs.
Another way of joining a construction union is through direct application for membership with the union. This applies when you have worked in the construction trade for several years and have the necessary skills and experience.
Although every union has its requirements, they have to evaluate your education and work experience to determine if you fit the membership profile. An excellent example of such a union is the Laborers’ International Union of North America. The union accepts applications through its local and regional offices. Moreover, the union has 14 union affiliates in different trades.Other unions do not require you to go through their apprenticeship program to become a member. As an experienced construction worker, you can join unions that represent cement masons, bricklayers, roofers, or carpenters as they have their membership path.
A great example is the United Union of Roofers that has a direct application form that you can fill out. The form with your information is forwarded to a local union representative who will review it and determine your membership eligibility.
Through an Employer
You can join a construction union if you work for a construction contractor or employer with an existing union contract. That means you can join the union through your employer. However, some employers are keen on not having union activities carried out in the workplace.
You will need to talk to your employer to understand the procedure of joining the union before contracting a union representative. If you are unsure about the process, you can visit the union’s local or national office to get more information on how to join a construction union at the workplace.
Forming a Union Together With Coworkers
Another way of becoming a union member is by joining together with coworkers to form a union if you are a public employee or a construction worker. The Laborers’ International Union of North America, also called LIUNA, is one union that allows this type of membership.
Top Construction Unions
If you are looking to join a construction union, below are some of the top unions you can join in different trades.
Laborers International Union of North America
LIUNA or the Laborers’ International Union of North America is a union of workers in the U.S. and Canada. With over half a million members, the international union was formed in 1903 to accommodate members within nine regions.The union has more than 500 local unions within those nine regions and the one in Toronto. LIUNA’s goal is to raise standards for workers and employers on the job and get to a new generation of workers looking for a better life.
LIUNA members are experienced and skilled to work in the construction industry. Members build infrastructure from bridges, roads, skyscrapers, and transit to school. The union was the first to create a plan to improve its workers’ health and safety and create drug/alcohol rehabilitation programs.
International Union of Painters
The International Union of Painters has over 160,000 members from different crafts like floor installers, wall coverers, painters, drywall finishers, glassworkers, and other professional service providers.
The union was formed in 1887 and was known as the Brotherhood of Painters and Decorators of America. Their mantra has been single-handed. We can accomplish nothing but united. There is no power of wrong we may not openly defy. When it comes to training, the union provides state of the art training and tools for its members.
In 2010, the International Union of Painters moved to Hanover, Maryland. The building also houses a campus that also acts as an international training center. The IUP has an apprenticeship that lasts three years, but this time frame can be reduced if you have experience in the craft.
Moreover, the union provides community outreach through programs like the Painters and Allied Trades for Children’s Hope Foundation. Members still get benefits, which is why the retired also keep their membership active.
Sheet Metal Workers International Association
The Sheet Metal Workers International Association, formerly known as the Tin, Sheet Iron, and Cornice Workers International Association, was formed back in 1888. You can join this union if you are in heater and boiler construction, appliance construction, heating, air conditioning work, architectural sheet metal work, appliance construction, specialty parts manufacturing, and any other trade that uses sheet metal.
In 2004, the Association merged with the United Transportation Union to become the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation. The Association has over 150,000 members in over 180 local unions in the U.S. and Canada.The Sheet Metal Workers Association is renowned for negotiating the first local health/welfare plan and the first pension plan in the construction industry.
Before 1890, people who worked within the pipe trade worked as steamfitters, plumbers, or gasfitters. Nonetheless, when the union was formed in 1889, all these people were united. More members from other unions also joined the Association.
International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers
IBEW, also known as the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, is a labor union fighting for members’ rights in the electrical industry. The union has members in the United States, Canada, and some Caribbean island nations.
The union was founded in 1891, before businesses and homes in the States began getting electricity. IBEW offers training courses and programs to help its members keep up with new technology. These courses are offered in conjunction with the National Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee and the National Electrical Contractors Association.
Their members work in different areas like telecommunications, construction, manufacturing, utilities, and government. IBEW has more than 750,000 members, and it is one of the best unions to join if you are looking to join the electrical industry.
Being part of a construction union benefits you as a member because you enjoy collective bargaining power. The union negotiates on your behalf. Moreover, you get to enjoy health benefits, pension, and job security. There are also guaranteed pay, which means extra pay and access to more job opportunities. With the tips above, you will learn how to join a construction union and some of the common unions you can join.