July 2016

Keeping Pace with Reinforcing Ironworking Opportunities

Reinforcing ironworking opportunities continue to rise and we must keep pace and exceed the growing demand to increase our market share.

Our union has always maintained a strong core of our members who are competent in the reinforcing industry. Thanks in part to our state-of-the-art curriculum, our training facilities and our signatory employers engaged in the reinforcing and post-tensioning area of our industry.

Some areas have lost significant market share and the International responded by establishing a market recapture plan in over 20 states to reorganize the reinforcing industry and formed Local Union 846. Since its establishment, Local Union 846, and then a newly chartered Local Union 847, have organized over 2,500 members as of today, starting somewhere near 200 members in 2004. It is great progress, but nowhere near what we need to represent the majority of the reinforcing industry in that 20-state region.

During and since the 2008 financial collapse, we have seen many members retire naturally or leave our industry to pursue other ways to feed their families.

The economy has responded robustly in many areas and we need to replace the reinforcing ironworkers who have left, and supply the increased demand due in part to technological advances where reinforced concrete is dramatically on the rise in comparison to structural steel. Concrete use is expected to nearly double by 2035. One projection calls for an increase of 50 percent or 10,000 more rodmen by 2018, up from 20,000 rodmen since 2010. The ability to supply, train and organize these workers is in our hands. With other unions attempting to compete for this work, as well as the open shop, we have a lot of work to do to strengthen our union’s market share in this area.

While many locals are mixed jurisdictionally and teach the core curriculum in all aspects of ironwork, we know most members specialize in one sector or another of our trade. We must enroll as many applicants as soon as possible into our apprentice programs who are geared for the reinforcing industry, or even fast track their reinforcing specific training, graduate them as reinforcing ironworkers, and allow them to master other aspects of the trade through upgrading at a later date. If you are a proud journeyman ironworker, who does it all including rods and post tensioning, that’s great; but market forces demand we respond with proactivity rather than reactivity.

Many areas have kept up with the demand; and I applaud your locals, leaders and members for their efforts.

If you are seeing a larger nonunion presence in your area as it relates to reinforcing, our apprenticeship training alone is not going to cut it. We must organize those already in the rod patch who possess the knowledge, skills and work ethic required to work rods. Let’s face it, most people in the open shop rod patch have the same callouses on their hands and the same holes in their blue jeans to prove they belong in a union who gives them the collective voice to achieve a better standard of living for their families. They carry the same lunch box our members do. We must lose the stigma we place on those who have not been fortunate enough to join our union.

Our union can only demand fair wages, benefits and working conditions for our workers when we represent the majority of the industry. If not, we end up concessionary bargaining downward to the open shop rates if they dominate the area.