In an agreement both parties are calling historic, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter has committed to use union labor on city-funded construction projects, and building trades unions are pledging to put more city residents and minorities on job sites.
For decades, city politicians have battled with leaders of the city’s construction unions. The building trades have packed City Council chambers demanding money for public works such as stadiums and convention centers, and Council members have complained that few of the jobs go to minorities or city residents.
Nutter and union leaders have been haggling for two years over the agreement finally announced Tuesday at City Hall. The deal commits the city to using Building Trades Council labor on city-funded projects costing at least $5 million. It also commits unions and contractors to some challenging diversity goals
“Fifty percent of the hours for those jobs must be set aside for Philadelphia residents,” Nutter said at the news conference. “And at least 32 percent of those are for minority males, and 7 percent for women.”
A measure of predictability
Nutter said the deal also gives the city and its contractors predictability at the job site.
“The city will know that there will be no strikes, no slowdowns, no stoppages, that our work will be done on budget, on time by some of the most skilled trades people in the United States of America, right here in Philadelphia,” Nutter said, prompting applause from union members gathered for the announcement.
Pat Gillespie, business manager of the Philadelphia Building and Construction Trades Council, said he’s glad the agreement formalizes a commitment to diversity, because he believes his unions have been unfairly attacked for years.
“You know the stereotypical view that a number of elected officials or former elected officials used to have at Council (is that we’re) just a bunch of fat, white guys from the suburbs,” Gillespie said. “That’s not the case, never has been the case, but that’s the way we were characterized because they didn’t get their political deal or something like that.”
One question asked at the announcement was whether the diversity goals would be applied to every craft working on a site. Traditionally, the laborers’ union has been heavily made up of minorities, while more skilled and higher-paid crafts were mostly white.
Gillespie hesitated, then said, “It’s, it’s yes. Every craft has committed to meet their goals.”
Goal vs. requirement
It’s true many craft unions have worked to expand apprenticeship opportunities for minorities in recent years. But the language in the agreement later sent to reporters shows the diversity numbers are goals, not requirements, and they apply to overall construction hours on a project, not to each craft.
But both sides seemed pleased to be working together, and the agreement establishes committees on each project to work out disputes and monitor compliance with diversity goals.
Both the mayor and the unions insist the deal will not make public projects more expensive, since they are competitively bid and most major contractors already use union workers.
Walter Palmer, president of the General Building Contractors Association of Philadelphia, attended the announcement, but declined to comment on the agreement.