Unions. You say the word and instantly everyone has an opinion. Some people have an irreverent, generationally developed opinion in favor of them. The other side of that may quip in sarcastic, derogatory remarks. As we operate across the country, it’s been quite a ‘hands-on’ learning experience. These experiences have formed my personal opinions about union forces. If you want a construction based, small business owner’s point of view, read on… If not, the X in the top right of this screen will redirect you.
Respect – I enjoy the fact that my union employees are typically respectful to the company owner, customers and other stakeholders. I noticed this trend recently on a job in New York. I overheard a union operator talking to the company owner on the phone, “Would you like me to stay here and load the last 6 trucks George? Or would you like me to finish my grading work? Yes sir. Whichever you want me to do George.” It’s a level of respect for his senior, also being the owner of the company. I’ve typically recognized it as a genuine respect for people they are working for and with. Inspectors or other stakeholders. It’s wholesome and reminiscent of how I was raised. I like that! I appreciate that. And for that, they earn my respect right back.
Unfortunately, I more frequently am noticing a lack of respect from non-union companies. I could describe it as a lack of appreciation for the opportunity to work. I know I’ve worked with a handful of mechanical contractors that appear to have minimal interest, almost a level of disdain for the customer and the job. It shows up in a lack of communication. Sometimes a failure to communicate plans and details to us. Maybe I confuse it with a simple lack of caring.
I have frequently witnessed some disrespect for other from union employees towards other unions and of course, for non-union employees. This could lead us to another observation…
Arrogance – Various unions have historically carried a level of arrogance. Sometimes just annoying. Other times disruptive and unproductive. If you want me to name names, my Operators Unions sometimes seem to typically carry a high level of arrogance. While it’s sometimes off-putting, in their defense the operators are typically well trained, experienced and take an exceptional amount of pride in their craft. Some to the point of an obsession. I can empathize with them when they don’t see others taking similar amounts of pride in their job.
Pride – Pride in work is another thing I’ve recognized from a vast majority of Union employees. Pride in their craft. Generational pride. A community pride. A pride in their company. A pride in their union. I watched an operator this week make art work out of his open excavation. It was much prettier than my work. It made me ponder, did it need to be that pristine? No. Not really. We just filled the hole back in. But it’s a very rare occurrence that I will discourage someone from displaying their hard earned mastery in their work. That level of pride in their work is contagious and helps set the tone for the next trades that must work there. And I’m happy to pay for that.
I’ve regularly seen similar levels of pride from small, family owned, non-union businesses. Usually those are companies that span several generations. Coincidentally, I rarely see this amount of pride from larger non-union companies. I won’t name names on this one. But it could almost be described as a lack of caring on the part of the larger non-union organized companies, and that saddens me, as someone who’s passionate about my trade.
Nosy – I do get fed up in some markets (which can remain nameless) where the culture is so pro-union that we are promptly hassled about which unions we belong to. As a business owner, my first priority is to my customer. That doesn’t mean my employees take a backseat to anyone! They are treated with as much or more respect and dignity than any other company on our planet. I can sign my name to that statement. And truthfully, it is usually no one else’s business what unions our guys are in or what unions we’re signatory with. It is sometimes reminiscent of high school. It seems juvenile, backwards and counter-productive to my company’s mission and costly to the customer.
Responsibilities – This is my favorite part about working with multiple unions. As a small business owner, I need to complete a specific project. These projects typically require expertise from multiple disciplines, like excavation, carpentry, steel work, concrete work and landscaping. Our team, both union and non-union has been trained, is experienced and has earned the classification of experts at what we do. I’ve found that working with union companies has been incredibly efficient. One reason is because it draws a very clear line of who is responsible for what. And all the responsible parties take great pride in what they’re responsible for. As soon as one craftsman finishes his area of expertise, it’s handed over to the next tradesman for them to perform their craft. At the end of the day, quality is high and the efficiency was second to none.
My personal final opinion on this matter is simply that the people make the difference. Not the union affiliations or the lack thereof. Professionals are professionals. Amateurs are exactly that. I’ve found both examples from both work forces. At the end of the day, I am passionate about working with people who are passionate about what they do.