I read the Philadelphia Business Journal column – “Philadelphia should follow NYC’s open shop example” – on Sept. 21 and wanted to respond to set the record straight.
By: Robert Naughton, NRCC Tri-State Regional Manager
In the article, Editor in Chief Craig Ey stated that “Philadelphia’s businesspeople will often talk frankly about our challenges — things like onerous statutory regulations, wage and net income taxes and pockets of extreme poverty.” What the editor neglected to mention was a discussion of the significant amount of non-union companies in the city today who are misclassifying their employees, cheating hardworking men and women construction workers out of an honest day’s pay and bilking the city and state out of much needed tax revenue.
With less tax revenue to spend on vital programs that lift up our community, how much is this type of fraud hurting our city?
While the article states that “Philadelphia construction is still almost exclusively union,” this is a good thing for workers. Union companies classify workers as employees who are paid properly on the books with the appropriate amount of taxes taken out of their pay. Unfortunately — at this very moment — there are a number of non-union companies exploiting their workers in the city by paying them under the table in cash or personal check, not paying any benefits and cheating the city and state out of much needed tax revenue. So, while some of these builders working in an open shop environment might be able to construct buildings cheaper than union signatory contractors, they are doing it on the backs of the citizens of Philadelphia and low-paid workers with less skills and little to no benefits.
Unions are important because they provide local workers with good livable wages, health care and retirement benefits. You won’t find that in an open shop environment, where workers are typically exploited by their employers who do not pay area standard wages, workers compensation or disability.
There is now much discussion in the city of Philadelphia with the Rebuild Philadelphia program and other efforts by the city administration to get more local people involved in construction projects. At the Northeast Council of Carpenters, we have a saying that local unions should be made up of local people. And we are putting that into practice through the implementation of a number of initiatives to make this a reality.
This year, we started the Shades of the Trade Committee to help us to increase the recruitment and retention of people of color and women in our union in urban cities like Philadelphia and Camden. This committee is made up of people of color who hold a variety of high-level roles throughout our organization. It will specifically focus on: developing solutions to overcome the challenges presented by our workforce demographics; engaging in community involvement/coalition building to reach diversification goals; and reshaping our public image to show our commitment to all working people.
In the city of Philadelphia, we work with a number of local organizations to recruit interested residents for the Northeast Regional Council of Carpenters Pre-Apprentice Program. One organization that we work with, First Builders, helps to guide and mentor local youth into a career in carpentry, while rehabilitating homes and community centers throughout the city. We also participate and contribute in a number of community charitable activities, including working with local police and fire departments, Habitat for Humanity Philadelphia and other local organizations to lift up the city of Philadelphia and its residents.
You will not find these types of programs that encourage diversity in the workforce and give back in a positive way to the communities in an open shop environment.