Municipal Government

Blue Collar Buzz: Building Contractors Tell Why They Prefer Union Workers

November 25, 2016 
By Steven Wishnia

New York, NY – We hear a lot about how being in a labor union helps workers—but what’s in it for management? Why would businesses want to pay more for union labor? On this week’s episode of LaborPress’ “Blue Collar Buzz,” airing Sunday night at 9 p.m. on AM970 The Answer, Louis Coletti of the Building Trades Employers Association and carpentry contractor Dan O’Kane tell us what the advantages of using union workers are for them.

We also talk with Luke Symanski of American Health Care about managing the high cost of prescription drugs, and Colin Bradley of Winston Benefits explains “supplementary” benefits. And people in a blue-collar enclave of Westchester County are trying to ensure that a major development plan brings them good jobs and doesn’t price them out. Thomas Kissner of the Sustainable Portchester Alliance and Joseph Dullea of Plumbers Local 21 tell us how.

Louis Coletti’s trade association includes 1,800 construction contractors that use union labor. Yes, they have to pay more, he says, but “we want to utilize a skilled workforce,” especially on jobs that require making tight deadlines. “We like the dependability,” adds Dan O’Kane, founder of a contractor that installs walls and ceilings.

Another reason, O’Kane adds, is “to do the right thing by people.” He believes that businesses have a responsibility beyond the bottom line, and paying union-scale wages, he says, enables workers to support their families and contribute to the community. Or, as Coletti puts it, “there’s a value that occurs beyond the product”—the value of sustaining the middle class and giving opportunities to immigrants.

With prescription-drug prices skyrocketing, how can health-benefit funds manage it? Drugs were less than 20% of health-care costs a mere 10 or 15 years ago, but now, with the emergence of specialty drugs like Sovaldi, they account for almost half. Sovaldi cures hepatitis C in three months, but its $90,000 cost can break the bank for a benefit fund, says Luke Symanski, senior vice president of American Health Care. Nobody wants to deny people a cure, he says, but sometimes they might have to wait until they really need it.

Meanwhile, employee benefits usually include health care and retirement, but what about vision, dental, and life-insurance coverage? Colin Bradley explains how “supplementary” benefits help—including how they can fill the gaps in your regular health insurance.

Portchester, New York, a small, blue-collar city on the Connecticut border, is facing a massive development proposal. “We want development, we need it,” says Sustainable Portchester Alliance president Thomas Kissner—but not if it will gentrify current residents out and won’t create more than temporary jobs for them. Rather than use unsafe nonunion contractors, says Joseph Dullea, business agent for Plumbers Local 21, the development should get local residents into preapprenticeship programs that “give them a career.”

Also, Blue Collar Buzz cohost Bill Hohlfeld’s labor-history segment covers the founding of the CIO, the organization that built America’s industrial unions, 81 years ago.

LaborPress’ “Blue Collar Buzz” airs every Sunday night on AM970 The Answer from 9 to 10 p.m. This week’s episode, as well as every other episode of LaborPress’ “Blue Collar Buzz,” is also available on demand at

November 25, 2016

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