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Bombshell Report Busts Construction’s Biggest Myth

A comprehensive 2023 study proves that union construction is actually the less expensive option. Non-union proponents are officially out of excuses. 


Memesha Davis, an ironworker in Local 40, is one example of a union worker making a livable wage in New York city while providing efficient and more-affordable construction labor than her non-union counterparts. Her story is told in a CNBC documentary.

You’ve probably heard it before. "Union construction is so much more expensive than non-union construction! We just can’t afford that!" Non-union interests love to spread this narrative. And it is understandable that the public gets taken in by it— after all, union workers do get paid higher wages and receive better benefits than their non-union counterparts. Shouldn’t their work cost more? As it turns out, this line of reasoning is a deeply flawed oversimplification. In fact, union construction work is actually less expensive. A comprehensive study by Independent Project Analysis (IPA) proves it.


Just as you shouldn't judge the quality of a building by its façade, you shouldn't value labor by wages. Dig deeper, and you'll find that when you stack up efficiency, skill, safety, and all other factors, unionized construction is more productive and efficient. That means, despite the higher wages and better benefits, projects employing union labor reported a decrease in total costs. To put it simply, union construction is cheaper. 


The IPA study is lengthy, but critical to understand for anyone shopping for real estate in New York. Here are some of the biggest takeaways that you need to know to avoid being taken in by non-union propaganda:


Cost-Efficiency: Despite the common misconception of union labor being pricier due to higher wage rates, projects utilizing union labor reported a 4% decrease in total costs when juxtaposed against open shop labor. That’s right. Union projects are actually cheaper than non-union projects.


Ironworkers from Local 46 install rebar for flooring in a Manhattan build. -- Jin Lee/Bloomberg

Union Labor Is More Productive: The research established that union labor exhibits a productivity rate 14% higher than open shop labor. What’s more, the projects employing a blend of both union and open shop labor saw an 8% productivity boost compared to projects solely relying on open shop labor, indicating union leadership and efficiency rubs off on non-union workers.


Skill Level: Union craft labor and foremen displayed a markedly enhanced skill level in comparison to open shop labor. Notably, this higher skill level was correlated with reduced overall project costs and a predictable construction schedule.


Reliability in Skilled Labor Sourcing: The likelihood of projects encountering a scarcity of skilled labor plummeted by 40% when opting for union labor. This is key, as projects falling short of skilled labor are susceptible to a cost overrun of 10% or more and a potential 25% (or higher) schedule delay.


Labor Stability: A pivotal revelation from the study was that projects involving union labor faced a one-third reduced rate of labor turnover compared to open shop labor. The ramifications of this are hard to overstate. High labor turnover translates to project delays, inefficiency, and lower quality work.


The facts are on the table: union labor is the more cost-effective option, the safer option and the more highly skilled option. It looks like the proponents of non-union labor are all out of excuses.


Mark Colangelo is a writer and blogger.

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