Dear Mr. McMahon and Mr. Spector,
Re: Government Subsidies,
My name is Joe Leone and I am the executive director of UNiCON, a Multi-Craft, Joint Labor-Management Association based in Rochester NY. I write to you today on behalf of the board of directors of UNiCON and to comment on a recent article in the March 6, 2017 Democrat & Chronicle, written by Joseph Spector and entitled “NY is most unionized state, by far”. First, please allow me to offer some background on UNiCON Rochester. Our affiliates are the 350 + employers and the 15,000 + workers of the unionized construction industry here in the Finger Lakes region of upstate NY. Our organization has been around for many years, we are well known and respected in our community and our membership is comprised of the Rochester Building and Construction Trades Council, their 15 labor unions and the hundreds of signatory contractors they work with, the American Council of Engineering companies (ACEC), Rochester Research Associates (a local project compliance firm) and others. We represent some of the largest and most successful construction contractors, and the labor unions they partner with, in the industry. These organizations work together, in harmony, to promote and advance the common interests of our industry and our communities and we share this background with you today to solidify the fact that we speak on behalf of more than just ‘the unions’ and to offer validity to the statement that we believe we are preeminent experts in our field.
In this article Mr. McMahon was quoted as stating the following:
E.J. McMahon, president of the fiscally conservative Empire Center, contended that the state's unions have "a huge and very costly impact on public policy."
He said public salaries and benefits are "basically the tail that wags the public-sector dog. The other half are employed largely in either construction or in health care, both of which are heavily dependent on government subsidies."
I write today to offer an opposing position to Mr. McMahon’s comment as follows:
This statement implies that our unions receive direct government subsidies and that we are “dependent” upon them, but we contend that nothing could be further from the truth. As it relates to the unionized construction industry in Upstate NY I ask what “subsidies” are you referring to? To the best of my knowledge neither the unions, their membership, nor our signatory contractors receive any direct government subsidies of any kind. Our unions are totally self-sustaining; we compete in a very difficult, free market environment where only the lowest possible bid wins. Unlike many public unions that may enjoy a certain level of monopoly, we hold no such luxury. Every single contract awarded in construction is fought for, in what is typically an open and professional bid process by contractors, both union and non-union alike, who are all extreme competitors bidding against one another. Perhaps there are some subsidies available to other industries or to developers or contractors downstate or elsewhere, I do not know and cannot speak to that, but no such benefit exists here.
Despite the fact that every single job is competitively bid against a backdrop of overwhelming competition our contractors pay the highest wages in the industry, maintain the very best of safety and training programs and provide some of the best employee benefits possible. Our union members pay 100% of the costs associated with their own benefits, and pay all of their own obligations, fees and dues. There are absolutely NO entitlements in our world. Additionally, most trade unions have ‘funds’ the workers/members donate, out of their earnings, that are used to help the less fortunate, benefit the many charities across our great nation and advance the needs of their communities. We donate hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars to workforce development and regional economic prosperity. Our unions consistently and regularly give back to their communities in many, many ways and we do all of this without subsidies or public assistance of any kind.
In fact, and contrary to your statement, many of the multi-employer plans we participate in are subject to fees and taxes that most others are not obligated to pay. We are also subject to government reporting, regulation and oversight that is extremely onerous and far outweighs that of our non-union competition. In short, our Upstate Building and Construction Trades Unions build much more than just roads, bridges and buildings, we build communities. And we do all of this WITHOUT government subsidies.
In the spirit of full disclosure we do acknowledge that some of our training programs are eligible to apply for the occasional grant. These grants are typically in the area of workforce development and this is about the closest we ever get to any outside assistance. Our training programs are the ‘gold standard’ in apprenticeship and workforce training; called JATC’s or Joint Apprentice and Training Committees these jointly administered (labor-management) programs invest millions of our own private dollars into training the best, most qualified workforce in the industry. As such, we may be eligible for various workforce related grants, if they are available to the public, if we apply and if the program qualifies. It should also be understood however that these grants are not union only grants, these programs, if and when they are made available, are typically available to all who apply.
I apologize for the length width and depth of this reply but have done so in the hopes that you and your respective organizations are in pursuit of the truth and look to be accurate and factual. We cannot speak to the health care industry but do represent the unionized construction industry here in Rochester and if there is some form of subsidy that I am unaware of we would welcome your reply.
Respectfully, and on behalf of the 26 members of the UNiCON board of directors.
180 Linden Oaks, Suite 150
Rochester, NY 14625
Office (585) 288-3440
Fax (585) 288-5480
Cell (585) 703-3600