Don't Drink the Tea. Think With the WE.

St. Louis Building Trades Provide Blueprint for the Future of Public-Private Investment in Workforce Training

Aboussie, center, with leaders from IBEW Local 1

In touting the success of his organization’s $42 million Cortona at Forest Park Apartments project, St. Louis Building and Construction Trades Council Executive Secretary-Treasurer Jeff Aboussie set forth a vision of what the St. Louis building trades have to offer in terms of public-private partnerships. The project, part of the AFL-CIO’s Housing Investment Trust (HIT) effort, invests union pension funds into creating jobs for current members that result in a clear community benefit (usually affordable housing). Cortona led to a new wave of partnerships for the area construction trades that generated over $35 million in training center investments to help boost the region’s workers.

”Labor and management invested more than $35 million in three new training centers and upgraded training programs to prepare our construction workforce for the future. Meanwhile, to foster a more prosperous Missouri, construction labor quietly advanced partnerships with business and economic development leaders statewide. “

Making his case for ramped up future investments, Aboussie points out that the benefits of quality training, when achieved this way, come at no expense to the taxpayers. They merely reap the benefits of a more skilled workforce.

Specialized skills have been in demand of late. One of the unions involved is the Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 562 which will unveil a new, $12 million facility in 2013. There, members will be trained in the needed skills to gain employment in the construction of health care facilities, data centers, manufacturing plants and complex infrastructure.

Other locals are involved as well:

Painters District Council No. 2 just opened a new $3.5 million training center in Chesterfield where the finishing trades are upgrading skills for commercial, industrial and residential work.

The new $22 million St. Louis training center of Sheet Workers Local 36 is a learning laboratory of advanced building systems that is considered a prototype in the U.S. IBEW Local 1 and its NECA contracting partners are teaching the new skills needed to support renewable energy, including the reliable infrastructure needed for electric vehicle charging stations. Beyond these initiatives, the trades invest another $30 million annually in training — and, to repeat, at zero taxpayer expense.

While Aboussie advocates for partnerships with local business interests, he also notes that it will take partnerships with politicians of both parties to ensure workers are able to compete on a fair playing field. Among the many hurdles facing the construction trades, attempts by state houses to repeal or lower the standards that mandate prevailing wage top the list. Aboussie calls for continued wage protections:

This year, the University of Missouri-Kansas City issued its second benchmark study of prevailing wage. It examined 150,482 construction projects from 2003 to 2010 in prevailing wage and non-prevailing wage states. It found that prevailing wage states built $23.22 a square foot cheaper than non-prevailing wage states. Why? Because prevailing wage supports a workforce trained to deliver projects more proficiently. Commoditizing only degrades the know-how needed to build faster and better. It is self-defeating if its aim is to lower construction costs.

Aboussie calls for heightened levels of cooperation henceforth:

We can stand separately under political flags and not move an inch in hopes of returning to a bygone era when competing globally wasn’t an issue. Or we can unite and move forward to better compete globally. We’re looking for partners in prosperity. Interested?


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