Six building trades unions form Construction Alliance

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Two unions — the Laborers and Operating Engineers left the AFL-CIO Building and Construction Trades Department on March 1 to establish the National Construction Alliance with the Carpenters, Teamsters, Bricklayers and Iron Workers. The new alliance will represent roughly 2 million construction workers nationwide.

[At press time, it was not known if the Iron Workers, Bricklayers and Teamsters would leave the BTD, which is part of the national AFL-CIO. The Carpenters disaffiliated four years ago.]

Formation of the National Construction Alliance was announced at a press conference Feb. 14 by Operating Engineers President Vincent Giblin and Laborers President Terry O’Sullivan. At that time, the union officials said they would disaffiliate from the Building Trades Department, effective March 1. The departure, according to Giblin and O’Sullivan, was due to dissatisfaction with the AFL-CIO department’s political structure and because it sometimes did not concentrate on bread-and-butter issues of interest to rank-and-file construction workers.

The impact of the National Construction Alliance on statewide and local building trades councils is unclear. Some Laborers and Operating Engineers locals “will selectively remain” in local building trades councils, Giblin said, assuming the councils are effective. “When the Carpenters and the Teamsters withdrew from the AFL-CIO, a whole host of local building trades councils let them stay to participate, and our speculation is that they would continue to do so,” O’Sullivan added.

However, the two international presidents told Workday Minnesota it was likely the National Construction Alliance would be creating its own local structure. O’Sullivan said he had talked with about 25 unionized contractor associations and they all welcomed the changes and the creation of a new organization. He also said Change to Win — the new labor federation — had no role in their decision to leave the building trades. “There is no association between the National Construction Alliance and Change to Win,” he said.

The Laborers, Carpenters and Teamsters joined four other unions last year to create the Change to Win Labor federation. The Laborers have maintained their affiliation with the AFL-CIO, but O’Sullivan reiterated that “it is only a matter of when, not if” they leave. Giblin said “the jury is still out” on whether or not the Operating Engineers will leave the AFL-CIO.

Edward Sullivan, president of the AFL-CIO’s Building Trades Department and general president of the Elevator Constructors Union, said in a correspondence to state and local building trades councils that “working members (of the departing unions) should not be punished for the decisions of their leaders. Therefore, we ask you to continue your diligence and your patience as our affiliated unions determine a better path to the future.” He said the BTD governing board of presidents will meet soon “to map a definitive course for the building trades.”

Bob Shiprack, executive director of the Oregon State Building and Construction Trades Council, told the NW Labor Press that he will continue “doing business as we have always done business. None of this stuff has made any sense to me from Day One. We cannot allow the distractions we get from Washington, D.C., to impact our workers and contractors here in Oregon.”

John Mohlis, executive secretary-treasurer of the Columbia-Pacific Building Trades Council — and a member of the Bricklayers Union — has talked to business managers from several of the affected crafts and they all say they do not intend to leave. 

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