The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, April 08, 2011


By The Building Tradesman

Michigan sees small work upswing

Don’t look now, but Michigan has a comparatively positive, sustained construction employment streak going on.
Michigan gained 6,700 construction jobs from February 2010 to February 2011. That’s a 5.5 percent increase, ranking us No. 8 in construction employment percentage improvement during that 12-month period, according to a March 28 report by the Associated General Contractors based on Labor Department numbers.

That overall improvement in the Great Lake State came despite a 1.5 percent drop in construction employment from January 2011 to February 2011 – which has lousy weather as a cause written all over it. The month to month employment trend has mostly been positive in Michigan since last summer.

Of course these are historically still lousy times for overall construction across the nation. But Michigan was one of 19 states that added construction jobs during the past 12 months, and one AGC official said “these are certainly some of the best state-by-state numbers the industry has seen in quite some time.”

AGC officials cautioned that with total construction spending still declining and the prices contractors pay for most construction materials still rising, the construction industry remains “fragile at best.”

“It is hard to see how the broader economy will be able to grow significantly while the construction unemployment rate remains above 20 percent,” said Stephen E. Sandherr, the AGC’s chief executive officer. “If we can find ways to stimulate private-sector demand, cut red tape and address aging infrastructure, we will put millions to work and boost overall economic growth.”

Fatalities higher in right-to-work states

A study released last month from the University of Michigan’s Institute for Research on Labor, Employment, and the Economy concludes that unionization in the construction industry lowers fatality rates, while anti-union right-to-work (RTW) laws have the opposite effect, resulting in higher fatality rates.

The study compared industry (which can include people on job sites who are not building trades workers, such as drivers), and occupational (people in the building trades) fatality rates in RTW and non-RTW states, and found the rate of industry fatalities is 40 percent higher in RTW states, and the occupational fatality rate is 34 percent higher in RTW states.

The study also noted the millions of dollars spent annually by unions on safety training and accident prevention, and found that even within RTW and non-RTW states, the fatality rate decreased as the percentage of union workers increased.

The study concluded: “Construction unionization is associated with lower industry and occupation fatality rates. Moreover, the positive effect that unions have on reducing fatalities appears to be stronger in states without RTW laws.”

The study’s message to policy makers was: “States attempting to reduce construction-related fatalities should consider encouraging trade union growth and repealing RTW laws.”