The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, September 27, 2002

Who are those guys? Part 2

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor

Editor's note: In our last edition, we published the first in a series of three articles devoted to exposing the membership makeup of the rabidly anti-union Associated Builders and Contractors.

This analysis was provided by the National Heavy and Highway Alliance, a partnership of seven international building trades unions led by its Executive Director, Ray Poupore, who hails from Michigan.

We uncovered so many untruths regarding what the ABC says about its membership and what the ABC membership actually is, we really don't know where to begin.

As that famous defender, protector and enforcer of the law years ago, Sgt. Joe Friday, would've said, "Just the facts, ma'am. Just the facts." Well, here they are. No sugarcoating. No spin. No B.S. Just plain, simple facts according to the ABC's own "2000 National Membership Directory and Users Guide."

  • The ABC has 18,917 current members, not the 22,000 members it consistently and constantly claims.
  • Of those members, 45% are non-builders!
  • General contractors make-up only 12% of the ABC's membership. And 60% of its general contractor members do business of under $6 million per year. Moreover, 30% of its general contractor members do business of under $1 million per year.
  • Subcontractors constitute 43% of the ABC's membership. And 31% of its subcontractor members do yearly business of under $1 million. In addition, 87% of its subcontractor members do yearly business of under $6 million.
  • In a three-year time span approximately 43% of its members dropped out of the ABC.

These are just some of the facts that were revealed by our in-depth analysis of the ABC's own membership directory. Every scrap of data, including the classification of members and the dollar volume of work per year which its members perform (at least those members who actually do perform construction work) were taken directly from the ABC's own publication.

Absolutely nothing was fabricated. What follows is a section-by-section detailed description relating to the factual discoveries referenced above.

The overall membership. What would you call on organization that represents 979 insurance/bonding companies? Or 402 accounting firms? Or 323 banks and/or financial institutions? Or 440 law firms? Well, the ABC calls them members of a building construction organization!

That's a total of 2,144 builders…er…uhhh…we mean members! We just can't wait to hear these ABC members' positions on prevailing wage laws, or on Project Labor Agreements, or on wage compliance groups, or even on common-situs picketing. Now, that would make for some interesting conversation!

Within the ABC membership there are 1,432 are multiple members (i.e., the same member belonging to more than one chapter). If a member belongs to ten different chapters, then the ABC counts that one member as ten members. (We figure that's the Arthur Anderson method of padding your figures).

Consequently, if you subtract the multiple members from the original membership figure you get a true total count of 18,917 members. Not the 22,000 members which the ABC over the years has claimed, and has testified to before numerous Congressional Committees, that it represents.

The ABC classifies its members as a General Contractor, Subcontractor, Supplier or an Associate Member. We found the percentage breakdown of the current membership to be: General Contractors - 12%; Subcontractors - 43%; Suppliers - 24%; Associate Members - 21%.

Therefore, you could easily discern from these numbers that the ABC's membership includes 45% non-builders! To put it another way, it represents 9,160 firms/companies that do not build anything! They do not hammer any nails, erect any steel, paint any structures, dredge any harbors, patch any concrete, lay any bricks, wire any houses, tar any roofs, dig any ditches, weld any pipes, insulate any attics, or install any duct work. They simply are not builders.

But who does really build our nation's bridges, highways, office buildings, locks and dams, schools, parks, athletic stadiums, subways, and houses? General contractors, that's who. General contractors being assisted by subcontractors performing subordinate tasks to the main job at hand. So, how many general contractors belong to the ABC? Only 2,395 - or 12% of its entire membership. And almost one-fourth of its general contractors do yearly business of under $1 million.

One small state, or metropolitan county, has that many registered general contractors within its confines!

Another classification which the ABC uses is an "Associate Member." Just what is an Associate Member you may ask? Well, here are a few examples: BJ's Custom Creations Embroidery Service of Hagerstown, MD; Tee It Up Golf of Jacksonville, FL; WRKA Radio of Louisville, KY; Round Butte Seed Growers of Culver, OR; Ann's Custom Monogramming of Freeport, TX; National Bugmobile of Victoria, TX; Grimm Trophy & Gifts of York, PA, and Archway Cookies of Boone, IA. These are just a few examples of some of the builders …oops…of course we mean these are some of the Associate Members of the ABC.

And, can you guess how many more Associate Members there are just like these? If you guessed 4,183 you'd be correct! That's right. These types of companies comprise 21% of the ABC membership. Wouldn't you just love to sit down with a representative of Archway Cookies of Boone, Iowa in order to discuss the Davis-Bacon Act and how it impacts their bottom line?

So would we, just to be able to explain to them that the Davis-Bacon Act isn't something you eat for breakfast! Since we have just proven, by using the ABC's own classification system, that almost half of its members are non-builders, then how can the ABC claim that its members perform 70% to 80% of the construction in this country? That's easy. It can't, unless it embellishes the facts. However, in our society you can claim anything you want. The hard part starts when you're actually asked to prove your claims. Please read on. Dollar volume of work performed. This brings us to the ABC's claims of how much work its members actually perform. Through the years we've seen, or heard, ABC ads that say its members build 75% of all construction. We even saw one ABC ad once that proclaimed, "We are ABC; we are construction. Across the U.S.A., we do fully 85% of all projects large and small…" Are these claims inflated? Inflated? Is the gigantic Snoopy balloon in Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade inflated? You bet, and it's filled with nothing but pounds of hot air. The only method we could figure out to prove how much construction ABC members actually perform in a year was, once again, to go straight to the horse's mouth, i.e., its own directory. Each and every general contractor and subcontractor is classified by the ABC by the amount of dollar volume of work performed in a year. We used this same classification system in breaking down each and every general contractor and subcontractor. We found that 87% of all ABC builders combined, both general and subcontractors, perform under $10 million of work per year. Now, any idiot can readily see that ABC members cannot possibly build 75% of all construction in this country, let alone 85%. For example, there was approximately $500 billion worth of construction performed last year in the U.S. and 75% of that is $375 billion. And, we've proven that, according to its own numbers, 87% of the ABC members who actually do build things do yearly dollar volume of work of under $10 million. Those figures just don't add up! Unless, of course, each and every builder (not member, but builder) in the ABC performs over $33 million of work per year! We say, if the numbers don't fit, then the false claims must quit! We're not the only group or organization that has challenged the ABC's claims that its members build most everything in this country. None other than Cockshaw's Construction Labor News + Opinion, a newsletter devoted to the construction industry since 1971, has also questioned the ABC's myriad of claims. In fact, since 1991 Cockshaw's has had an ongoing battle with the ABC in trying to get it to prove its claims of percentage of work performed. To our knowledge, to date the ABC has yet to provide one tiny scrap of data to Cockshaw's that could substantiate its wild claims. On the other hand, the only source we can think of to turn to is the ABC's infamous directory, and we now know what that proves in regards to dollar amount of work performed! Of course, when confronted with these facts (a word that may be alien to the ABC) we're pretty positive that the ABC will respond that it's really talking about open-shop numbers, and not the amount of dollar volume per year its members actually perform. Come on, what else can they say? But if they take that slick way out, wouldn't that be like the Minnesota Vikings taking credit for a touchdown scored by the San Francisco 49'ers? The question then would be: Do you take credit for construction work that is not performed by your members? Of course you do if you're the ABC. It has in the past and it probably will in the future. Concerning the amount of construction work which ABC members actually perform in a year, we think we can safely say that they don't perform 75%, not even close. It simply is impossible. But rest assured, this won't stop the ABC from making its exaggerated claims. Although, we must admit, if we told whoppers like that when we were growing up, we'd still be standing in the corner per the orders of mom.