Updated: Aug 24
I was still somewhat wet behind the ears from a ‘knowledge of the world’ standpoint when I ran for Congress in 2006, and I probably learned more about how the world works that year than any other time of my life.
Running as a Democrat, one of the things I discovered that year was the role of unions in the building and construction industry. I was impressed by how the benefits this partnership between industry and labor resulted in a win-win situation for everyone. For the worker, the unions provide training and apprenticeship programs, consistent benefit coverage, and job security. The construction industry is provided with trained, skilled workers and greater flexibility to bring workers on jobs as needed.
It has dawned on me recently that this is a model that could help solve the problems of the ‘gig’ economy; allowing for flexibility while providing a source of training, benefits and security for workers. Currently, gig and temporary workers have no security, and the cost of providing healthcare and other benefits is often borne by the taxpayer. If we could put aside the animosity toward unions that has arisen in the GOP the last few decades and look at the problem from a pragmatic standpoint, I can easily picture some modest changes in the law, using mostly carrots rather than sticks, to encourage businesses hiring gig or temp workers to allow organization of this growing workforce using this model.
This epiphany is obviously not unique. Here is a quote from the website of the NABTU (North American Building Trades Unions):
“These partnerships offer a new model for labor relations across North America, and it’s an approach that recognizes the enormous benefits created for working people when industry and labor work in collaborative fashion.”
A vibrant economy requires some flexibility in labor requirements. Since the building and construction industry has dealt with this situation for years and have a working model, we should take advantage of it.