Union versus Non-Union Debate in Philadelphia

I am following with interest a sequence of events that are unfolding on a construction site in Philadelphia.  Two young developers are facing staunch opposition from the building trades about using non-union workers on an apartment renovation project.  There are no public dollars involved so there really should be no debate.  The unions in Philadelphia have had a stranglehold  over the majority of construction that has occurred so they do not like it when an entity challenges the generous wages and benefits that they enjoy.

One of the problems is that most Philadelphians know that outside of the Laborers, the majority of the building trade membership is comprised of non-minority males that do not live in Philadelphia.  My experience with Pat Gillespie, the President of the Building Trades membership for life, began when we tried to get minority owned firms to start their own unions.  As long as prevailing wages were paid to their workers, it was an easy process.  Register a training program with the Department of Labor and enjoys the wages that have been afforded to established union members for years.  One of the companies forwarded our outreach to Pat Gillespie and the battles were on.

While working for  PHDC, the RDA and OHCD, I dealt primarily with HUD funded projects.  Our construction was intended to help very low income areas that had suffered abandonment.  There was a formula for determining prevailing wage rates on rental projects.  Home ownership projects were free from prevailing wage requirements but most of the general contractors were signatory to the unions.  It was documented at the time that union projects cost more to build than non-union projects.  On the expansion of the Convention Center, there was even a debate about doing it open shop.  That movement fizzled but at least the discussion took place.  Do not challenge the established training centers and mess up the present balance of power was the message. 

If I live in an area where a project is being built, I would rather make $15.00 an hour than to be totally shut  out because I was not in a union.  The unions constantly claim that 30% of their membership in unemployed but they build all projects at the University of Penn, Temple University and the School District.  They control who gets into apprenticeship programs also.  And they are building the Dilworth Plaza projects and all major infrastructure projects in the Commonwealth of PA.   It if because of these advantages that I feel that non-union workers should get more support.  The union will never disclose its membership event though City Council has requested this information numerous times.  Let everyone compete and the costs of building in Philadelphia will decrease.   I will post on the progress of this project in the near future.

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