Tips to increase your competitive advantage as a union contractor.

Last month we shared parts of the UA’s attempt to use the Standard For Excellence to restore the competitive advantages of a signatory union contractor. I highly recommended that you get the rest of this story and call or visit your nearest UA local union to be certain it promotes and practices this standard.

The Standard For Excellence was signed and introduced almost four years ago, yet some of these profit-oriented commitments are still not being utilized. It is easy to understand why the union locals are hanging on to their procrastination but I cannot imagine why any signatory contractor would not demand what was agreed upon and signed in his best interest! The Standard For Excellence would surely assure the three critical Ps - pride, productivity and profit.

As our family company struggled to survive the Great Depression, we desperately chased every last penny and wore out these slogans looking for any competitive advantage:

• There is always a better way. (Today we call it value engineering.)

• What you don’t know can definitely hurt you.

• Closely observe what everyone else is doing.

• CEO - Consider Every Option. Adapt the good ones and dump the bad ones.

Uplift The Union Image

In addition to taking full advantage of all this collective bargaining, you should recommend your own ideas to increase the competitive advantage for your company and boost the union image.

Consider some of these changes that do not cost extra money and will definitely assure the three Ps:

1. Utilize a database skills inventory to establish exactly which skills or tasks your craftsmen are qualified or certified to perform. This will increase the after-work training efforts by showing each individual every item that he needs in order to enjoy the pride of a qualified craftsman.

This skills inventory will reinforce a UA local’s ability to dispatch the qualified craftsman requested for each task.

2. Conduct  monthly social meetings for retired and semi-retired members to salvage all of that wasted experience, ability and wisdom. This will provide the honorable opportunity to “give something back” to their life-long career industry.

These golden employees will proudly help train and mentor new employees and add needed skills and abilities for seasoned members. They will also help contractors with value engineering and prefab advice for bidding, as well as actual construction.

3. Initiate flex-time work hour options to accommodate each employee’s personal needs and unusual situations for your customers.

4. In addition to dressing in a manner appropriate for a highly skilled and professional craftsman, recommend an attractive hard-hat sticker and emblem on their shirts.

5. Assign common laborers as tenders or helpers to eliminate the need for highly skilled craftsmen to perform menial tasks. In addition to being demoralizing to craftsmen, this grunt work is also, unfortunately, assigned to registered apprentices who should be learning and practicing practical skills.

6. We need to clean up our registered “indentured” apprenticeship programs to attract the best “born-to-build” talent and create productive, skilled employees for our future.

To start off, discard the demeaning word “indentured” and utilize the proud title of “intern.” Intern is defined as “an advanced student or graduate gaining supervised, practical experience.” Isn’t that exactly what we are trying to accomplish? Simply changing the title would totally upgrade apprentices’ image and respect on the jobsite, as well as their place in society with family and friends.

Each intern should be assigned to one master craftsman who can keep track of skills learned on the database skills inventory. When there is little or no progress, the problem needs to be investigated and positive changes initiated.

An intern’s wages should be adjusted to reward inherent ability and exceptional, extra effort. This would eliminate demoralizing peer pressure.

7. Recommend that union members attend a minimum number of monthly meetings each year to actively get more jobsite opinions into practice. If not, a reasonable fine could be levied and utilized for a worthwhile cause.

8. Select and train willing and capable craftsmen to reinforce your management team. Their knowledge and jobsite experience are invaluable for your project management, estimating and purchasing positions.

Critical cost-saving basics they need to learn include:

• Control starting and quitting times and keep crew size to a minimum. Assign the day’s work schedule, plus one more day. Check carefully, count and send signed delivery tickets to the office. A foreman should only work with his tools if and when the crew is productive.

• Read and enforce your subcontract, plans and specs, shop drawings, alternates and addenda, and local codes. Update your as-builts every week. Maintain an accurate daily log, and get extras and change orders documented and signed.

• Be aware of government regulations such as the National Labor Relations Board’s rules on unfair labor practices, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s discrimination policy regarding laying off and firing workers, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s safe, clean and orderly jobsite policies.

• Never criticize or discipline an employee in front of others. Wear a smile and always give two options to encourage value-engineering feedback to maintain high morale and motivation. Conduct after-hour training sessions to help employees learn new skills.

• Utilize every opportunity to assist all of the other trades - the general contractor, the design team and the customer - to save time and make more profit. That’s why we are all here!

That is just a short list of changes that I’ve personally discussed with contractors as well as union representatives. I’m sure most of you have many more that would increase pride, productivity and profit for your businesses.

You should be very proud of whatever size company you’ve built, but think about what else you can accomplish. There’s no limit to your capabilities!