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Opinion: Boys Behaving Badly — How A Feeling Of Superiority Leads To Toxicity In The NJ Construction Industry

By January 19, 2023January 24th, 2023No Comments

I was disappointed to read an opinion column written by Frank Mahoney, Communication Director for the Eastern Atlantic States Regional Council of Carpenters, spreading mistruths about the Associated Builders and Contractors of New Jersey (ABC-NJ) and the awards we bestow on legislators for representing the NJ construction industry.  Unfortunately, this is just the latest in a series of desperate tactics deployed by Mr. Mahoney and some of his fellow building trades union members against me and my organization.

A few months ago, at a public meeting in Parsippany, union members showed up in overwhelming numbers to support a project labor agreement ordinance that would discriminate against 72 percent of the workforce and an overwhelming 98 percent of minority contractors who choose not to belong to a construction labor union.  Their civic engagement on this issue is welcome.  However, their tactics of intimidation and harassment are not.  I was called sexist slurs by some of the union members in the audience, and I have strong reason to believe I was followed home. As a newly pregnant woman, I was forced to retain private security for my own safety.  I’m sure Mr. Mahoney and his colleagues would agree that no person deserves to be harassed, insulted, or intimidated over an issue of public policy.  

In his column, Mr. Mahoney paints the picture that ABC-NJ is an “anti-union” organization. That is false. We believe in the freedom of choice. End of story. Both of my grandfathers and my great grandfather chose to belong to construction labor unions, just like the small percentage of New Jersey’s construction industry workforce who belong to unions today.  That, of course, is Mr. Mahoney’s real issue:  project owners are not as beholden to the building trades unions as they once were, and Mr. Mahoney’s organization is threatened by the prolific growth and success of merit shop groups such as ABC.

Notwithstanding our fundamentally different guiding principles, ABC has made conscious efforts to confer with the state’s union leaders to find areas where we can work together. We stand in solidarity with the construction labor unions in recognizing the importance of safety and education, so much so that in 2019, ABC-NJ created our U.S. DOL approved apprenticeship training program. We continue to work very well with the N.J. DOL and U.S. DOL to ensure that our apprentices are getting quality education and that our program and members are held to a high standard. We continue our efforts to promote this program in all areas of the state offering high quality training for no cost to the apprentice.  Notwithstanding this progress, attacks like Mr. Mahoney’s hit piece are what’s delivered by unions like the Carpenters.

The large majority (72%) of New Jersey’s construction workforce is non-union labor. And ninety-eight percent (98%) of minority-owned construction companies are non-union shops, perhaps reflective of the perception that construction unions have not welcomed diversity. Alternatively, the merit shop organizations such as ABC have demonstrated that workforce development is a priority, and that race, ethnicity, gender, religious beliefs, and sexual orientation are not areas for which they wish to exclude people from working and being trained.  

The awards we give legislators are also based on merit. We evaluate our state’s legislators’ actions to determine what is best for the construction industry as a whole, including the workforce – regardless of labor affiliation. We then award those lawmakers who stand out from the rest. To suggest that ABC’s approach is inappropriate when labor perennially contributes to and financially supports candidates and legislators who carry the union’s water is pure hypocrisy.  Just because the Carpenters union is apparently threatened by the continued growth of our organization does not make those awards any less valid.

Mr. Mahoney’s piece is clearly a precursor to more lobbying by the Carpenters for laws like the one recently passed in Parsippany, which potentially forces union-represented labor on the municipality’s taxpayers for any publicly funded construction project (even though studies by our own Department of Labor document the higher cost and slower completion rates on such projects).  ABC’s position on laws like these is simple:  any and all contractors – union or non-union – should have the right to compete for taxpayer-funded construction work.  Period.  Freedom of choice for the municipality, and the taxpayers who ultimately pay the bill.  Mr. Mahoney and his cohorts don’t relish this type of competition.  Instead, they focus on rewarding politicians who advance their discriminatory and expensive project labor agreement agenda. 

Mr. Mahoney is entitled to his opinions, but not his own facts.  Merit Shop construction currently offer jobs and opportunities for an estimated 400,000 workers in New Jersey. False attacks and attempts to delegitimize an organization like ABC that serves more construction workers than Mr. Mahoney’s employer, does not serve the best interests of the construction industry or its workers.

Samantha DeAlmeida is the president of the Associated Builders and Contractors of New Jersey.