Providing value and creating opportunity

Today in America, we find ourselves at the convergence of several critical policy challenges that together are having an impact on the American economy and our collective interest in ensuring an expanding middle class. 

The first is the pressing issue of income inequality where even conservatives like Newt Gingrich acknowledge that "...every Republican should be concerned about inequality. I think when you have places where there are billionaires living in a city with 22,000 homeless children, anybody who has a sense of decency has to be concerned." 

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Secondly, there are the constant political and policy struggles that exist between Left and Right over the conjoined issues of work versus dependency; deficits versus vital safety nets; and the preferred path of fostering economic growth that strengthens families and entire communities.  

And finally, there continues to be much discussion and conversation regarding the future growth prospects for the American labor movement in the aftermath of the attempt to organize the workforce at Volkswagen's Chattanooga, TN production facility.  

On this score, some observers have suggested that labor embrace a strategic shift encompassing a more cooperative attitude in the workplace, coupled with a more bipartisan approach to politics.

North America's Building Trades Unions have embraced a successful operational model that is premised upon a non-partisan approach to politics coupled with engagement, cooperation and partnership with individual companies, entire industries, government entities and community organizations; all of which are leading to economic growth and individual opportunity. 

The success of this operational model has led to the establishment of system-wide contractual agreements with, among others, companies like Exelon, Entergy, Detroit Edison, Toyota, Tennessee Valley Authority, and The Walt Disney Company.  

In addition, we have cultivated formal partnerships with the pharmaceutical industry and the petroleum industry; and we have developed solid, mutually beneficial working relationships with the nuclear industry, the power generation industry, the petro-chemical industry and the natural gas industry, at both the state and local level.  

Among community organizations, we enjoy scores of partnerships and relationships at both the national and local level with entities such as the Urban League and Youth Build.  And in neighborhoods all across America - large and small; urban and rural - our unions are working with community leaders to fashion together pre-apprenticeship programs, such as the Building Pathways program in Boston and the Edward J. Malloy Initiative for Construction Skills in New York.     

Our performance-based culture is the product of what is perhaps the most successful, yet least acknowledged, educational success story in the history of the United States; namely, the nationwide skilled craft apprenticeship infrastructure that is comprised of over 1,500 Joint Apprenticeship Training Centers (JATCs) across the U.S., and which is privately and jointly funded and managed by our unions and our signatory contractors to the tune of over $1 billion a year.  And because of this commitment by our members and responsible contractor partners, we are not singularly reliant on local, state or federal taxpayer money. 

Today all across the nation, our unions are leveraging this training network to address the current and future skilled craft workforce needs of individual companies and whole industries; while also building structured career training pathways for historically under-served communities - especially minorities, women, and military veterans - who find themselves stuck in a dead-end cycle of poverty, public assistance and scarce hope for a better life.

Is our approach succeeding?  The Bureau of Labor Statistics recently reported that in 2013 our unions collectively expanded their ranks by almost 100,000 new members.  Excluding residential construction, our unions now account for roughly 40 percent of the commercial, heavy, highway and industrial construction markets in the U.S., and we are poised for dramatic growth over the next 10-15 years.

Ours is a story that even conservatives should love, and many actually do.  Throughout our history, our non-partisan approach to politics has resulted in the consistent support of many Republican members of Congress, as well as governors, state legislators, mayors, and county commissioners.  In fact, during the 2012 election cycle, North America's Building Trades Unions were, collectively, the third largest contributor to GOP federal candidates. 

In the construction industry today, discriminating buyers of services are looking for value; as are governmental and community leaders interested in expanding the middle class.  

Whether industry or labor; Republican or Democrat; liberal or conservative, the operational model of North America's Building Trades Unions is becoming increasingly appealing because of one simple concept:  it is centered upon the competitive delivery of measurable value for all parties involved. 

McGarvey is president of North America's Building Trades Unions.