The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, June 08, 2012

ABC’s puffed up self-importance deflated by scathing trades report

By The Building Tradesman

The nation’s building trades unions have long accused the anti-union Associated Builders and Contractors of being long on self-aggrandizement, rhetoric and public relations, and short on actual construction experience, training and membership.

Now, there’s proof.

The Building and Construction Trades Department (BCTD), with the support of the AFL-CIO and the Laborers International Union, on May 31 jointly released the findings of a first-ever state-by-state comparative analysis of the Associated Builders and Contractors trade association, better known as the ABC.

The findings, said the Building Trades Department, “expose a pattern of data manipulation and an aggressive dis-information campaign, conducted by the ABC and on behalf of its affiliate organizations, designed to confuse elected officials, the public and the press into supporting policies that produce fewer jobs, lower wages, and minimal workforce training, which have had a detrimental effect on workers, their communities and the US construction industry as a whole.”

“The ABC positions itself as the voice of contractors, but this new report makes clear, once and for all, that they represent a very small fraction of licensed contractors in the U.S. construction industry,” said Sean McGarvey, the President of BCTD. “What we now know is that the ABC's primary purpose is not to engage in issues of importance to the construction industry, but to engage in ideological, anti-union advocacy that is hurting workers and damaging the industry overall.”

The ABC calls itself “a national association with 74 chapters representing 22,000 merit shop construction and construction-related firms with nearly two million employees. ABC's membership represents all specialties within the U.S. construction industry and is comprised primarily of firms that perform work in the industrial and commercial sectors of the industry.”

The Building Trades Department study found that many of the “construction-related firms” referenced as ABC members include a florist, restaurants, insurance brokers and Chevrolet dealers.

Said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka: “We're calling on the ABC to come clean with its members, legislators and the press. It's time to be honest about the agenda driving ABC's anti-union efforts, and who is funding them.”

The report, written by Dr. Thomas J. Kriger of the AFL-CIO-affiliated National Labor College, analyzes the ABC from a number of different perspectives, including its origins, its membership and density among contractors in the American construction industry.

The report also details the ABC's finances, its formal apprenticeship and craft training programs (along with its affiliate, the National Center for Construction Education and Research, NCCER), and ABC's more recent electronic, ideological issues advocacy.

“This report proves what we in the organized building trades have known for some time: that the ABC is essentially an astroturf advocacy group funded for the sole purpose of torpedoing worker's rights around the country," said Terry O'Sullivan, President of the Laborer's International Union of America (LIUNA).

Among the key findings of the report:

  • In spite of the ABC's claim to represent “80 percent of construction,” its membership in reality amounts to only 1 percent of the construction industry. The ABC has approximately 22,260 apprentices. The Building and Construction Trades Department, AFL-CIO, has 429,000 by comparison.
  • The ABC's membership amounts to only 1 percent of all U.S. construction businesses.
  • A substantial number of the ABC's membership is not related to the construction industry at all. “At the time this analysis was completed,” the report said, “there were 44 Chevrolet dealers included in the ABC membership, as well as 673 insurance brokers/dealers and 59 banks. (None of whom, presumably have ever been paid to lift a hammer or plumb a building).
  • Among the “construction-related firms” included in the ABC membership are the Land and Sea Restaurant in Corpus Christi, Texas; Freddie’s Bar-B-Que in Sapulpa, Oklahoma; the Rose of Sharon European Florist in Jacksonville, Florida and Diamond State Party rentals of Wilmington, Delaware. 
  • In no state in the 46 where the ABC has chapters does the percentage of its member-contractors exceed 6 percent.

The data shows that the ABC's workforce development capacity, based on its financial commitment (estimated at $30 million to $50 million annually) and the corresponding size and scope of its apprentice training system, is dwarfed by the $750 million annual investments made by America's building trades unions and their affiliated contractors, which has produced one of the nation's largest, private, self-funded education systems.

While misrepresenting its member base as representative of “80 percent of construction,” the ABC engages in highly organized lobbying and advocacy campaigns that undermine project labor agreements (PLAs) and other labor laws, including the Employee Free Choice ACT and Davis-Bacon, according to the report.

State lawmakers and the press are in turn misled into believing that the ABC speaks for labor and construction, which is not the case. Many of its agenda items are aligned with the American Legislative Exchange Council, also known as ALEC. The ABC's 2009 Chapter Legislative Guide contained 18 bills listed as "property of" ALEC, while the ABC's 2010 Legislative Handbook included 10 examples of copyrighted ALEC model legislation.

Examples of the ABC's ideologically-based advocacy campaigning include:

  • ABC's national organization funds two political groups that provide legal services for chapters fighting PLAs (project labor agreements).
  • To fight PLAs, the ABC created "" (as well as "") to perpetuate so-called news stories, as well as a blog that tracks labor proposals and links to an anti-PLA Facebook page.
  • ABC launched a prominent new media campaign known as "Halt the Assault," which includes a website and videos on Youtube.

The report features a state-by-state analysis of the ABC's local efforts to undermine unions and labor laws. The states in particular where the ABC is shown to be the most active are Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, California and Washington, DC.

“At a time when the construction industry is hurting and unemployment continues to be high, the ABC is spending millions a year to promote anti-union, anti-government policies that are putting America's workforce at risk,” said Kriger, author of the report.

“The ABC's low road employment strategy may have produced short term gains for open shop contractors and construction users, but this strategy also produced negative consequences for the industry and society.”

For a copy of the full report, go to