It is no secret that over the past two decades the unionized share of
the construction industry in North America has declined. There are
several explanations for this development, both political and economic; but one
possible contributing reason may be the perception that quality of
craftsmanship in the industry has declined. Whether or not that is true,
building trades unions and their signatory contractors both have a stake in
ensuring the highest quality in the union members who man the jobs. This
goes beyond development of skills and training. Given the high wages and
benefits provided in their agreements, building trades unions and their
employers have to be concerned that employees will show up on time, work
productively throughout the work day and be free of drug or alcohol
abuse. The overwhelming majority of building trades workers are
productive and problems free, but there are, unfortunately, a small minority of
"problem" employees who do damage across the board disproportionate
to their numbers.
In view of these issues, some building trades international unions, including the UA, the IBEW and the Plasterers and Cement Masons, have developed what they refer to as "Codes of Excellence" or "Standards of Excellence". They are designed both to reinforce the positive attributes of productive employees, and at the same time to address the shortcomings of the problem employees, who seem to bounce from one employer in their industry to another through their hiring hall, causing problems wherever they go. The situation is sometimes made worse by the reluctance of some employers to give out "bad terminations", in order to take the path of least resistance. These Codes or Standards of Excellence not only specify certain standards of conduct by which its members are expected to abide when on the job, but they also contain new procedures designed to address, and correct, deficiencies on the part of the small group of problem employees.
Our situation in the IUEC is different in some critical respects from other building trades unions. Our market share remains strong, far superior to any other building trades union. But our success also compels us to address the problems of the small percentage of problem employees in the IUEC. By the end of this agreement, the average annual benefit costs alone to our employers for the typical working member will exceed $44,000. Our members are highly skilled and productive, but we cannot let a few bad apples allow employers or their customers to question whether it is worth it for them to continue to employ IUEC members. Given the Mechanic-Apprentice ratios and provisions on Temporary Mechanics in our agreement, we can no longer allow the unproductive members, who often serve as "blockers" on the bench or the hiring list to cause problems for the local, other members, and our employers.
Toward this end, we wish to state the following Principles of Excellence, which we believe our members must adhere to:
Ø Show up for work on time, ready to work, everyday;
Ø Abide by established starting, quitting, lunch and break times;
Ø Work productively but in a safe manner, to protect every worker on the job;
Ø Adhere to a zero tolerance policy for substance abuse;
Ø Take care of all tools, material equipment and property on the job, as if they were our own;
Ø Give eight (8) hours of work for eight (8) hours' pay; and
Ø Act in a professional manner, that enhances the reputation of both the IUEC and our employers.
In turn, we expect our signatory employers to:
Ø Follow the agreement;
Ø Provide effective supervision;
Ø Ensure that necessary tools and equipment are on the job;
Ø Play its part in providing a safe work environment; and
Ø Treat employees in a fair, respectful manner.
Other building trades unions, that have adopted similar principles, have had to develop new contractual procedures for addressing violations of these principles by employees. We in the IUEC already have a suitable and useful procedure in Article XXII, Par. 1(b) of our industry agreements, which provides, in part, as follows:
The Company has the right to reject any and all applicants referred to it by the Union. The Company, where requested by the Union, shall give, in writing, the reason for any rejections. It is further understood and agreed that if any workman is continually rejected by the Company within a local union's jurisdiction or if the Company, as a matter of practice, repeatedly rejects applicants referred by the Union, the local union Business Representative or the Company may submit the matter of rejection to the designated Company Labor Relations Representative and IUEC Regional Director. Failing agreement, the matter may be referred to the National Arbitration Committee under Article XV. The Company Labor Relations Representative and IUEC Regional Director, National Arbitration Committee or the impartial arbitrator shall have authority to decide the matter and impose an appropriate remedy. If they find that the continued rejection of a particular workman was justified, the appropriate remedy may include directing the removal of the named workman from the list for a period of time. If they find that the Company has unreasonably or discriminatorily exercised its right of rejection, the appropriate remedy may include directing the Company not have a right of exercising his right of rejection for a period of time.
These procedures have been used on only a handful of occasions over the years in the case of some bench "blockers". It is time we begin to use them more frequently, so that the two or three percent of problem employees in our industry, who create issues for all, cannot continue to do so without consequences. These procedures can be adapted and utilized to address instances where such employees violate the Principles of Excellence stated in this document. The IUEC and NEBA already have agreed on a permanent panel of Advisory Arbitrators under Article XV, Par. 4(A) of our agreement; we propose that we now also agree upon a permanent national arbitrator to resolve such cases arising under Article XXII, Par. 1(b) involving violation of these Principles, and to "impose an appropriate remedy", as stated therein, including, the "removal of the named workman from the list for a period of time". We hope our signatory employers, whose stake in employing productive craftsman is just as great as ours, will join us in this effort.
It has been said that the role of the union in the past has been "to protect the weakest among us". That is still a worthy goal; but it is also now time, in this era of competitiveness and in view of the high wages and benefits our members now command, to ensure that the "weakest" does not drag down the rest of us. It is hoped that these Principles of Excellence can advance that objective.