ENR’s recent story on the new labor-management accord in New York City to cut building costs and boost work revives memories of the founding of PRIDE of St. Louis Inc., 37 years ago. Like New York now, St. Louis then had a construction industry in crisis. Labor-management disputes were disrupting building projects and development dollars were fleeing town. PRIDE, an acronym for Productivity and Responsibility Increase Development and Employment, became a forum to unite labor and management.
We, too, eliminated outdated work rules, more than 300 of them. Prefabricated plumbing was allowed to expedite on-site assembly. Non-competitive overtime rates were adjusted. More efficient work crews were deployed. Contractors and owners improved construction management practices, expediting schedules and saving money.
As Big Apple builders will find out, trust does not come easy. It must be forged with the common goal of reinvigorating economic development to benefit all stakeholders. We applaud New York for its effort to create a more competitive union construction industry, but we offer one piece of advice: beware of complacency.
In St. Louis, we spend $30 million annually in worker training to keep pace with new technology and innovation that drive today’s immensely complex projects. But even the highly skilled can lose job security when attitudes of entitlement become entrenched. This advances nothing but a stereotype that union construction is too expensive and not customer oriented.
As an industry, we yearn for a supercharged economy to drive construction. But when we get it, as we did in the mid-to-late-1990s, we often begin taking for granted those bridges of harmony we had built. Rather than consider the common good, we gravitate toward selfish, private agendas. Necessity, being the mother of invention, led to PRIDE’s foundation and to the New York agreement as well. But complacency is the mother of discord, capable of destroying what’s been accomplished in both cities.
Labor-management relations should not require a “crisis atmosphere” to thrive. That doesn’t mean rolling over on issues. It means talking and listening constantly to find common ground that will benefit all. There is always more work to be done.