With the launch of C.H.O.I.C.E. - the Community Hub for Opportunities in Construction - North America's Building Trades Unions are moving forward with a new strategic approach that incorporates the successful implementation of a "high-road" construction industry business model that is premised upon collaboration and partnership with companies, whole industries, state and local governments and community groups throughout the greater Baltimore/Washington, DC/Northern Virginia region.
The expressed purpose and mission of C.H.O.I.C.E. will be to encourage the leveraging of construction and development investments for the expressed purpose of addressing the skilled craft workforce development needs of the regional construction market, as well as simultaneously confronting the pressing social needs relating to long-term chronic unemployment in historically disadvantaged communities.
C.H.O.I.C.E. will be comprised of 28 building and construction trades local unions in the greater Baltimore/Washington, DC/Northern Virginia region. These unions collectively represent thousands of skilled craft professionals in the building and construction industry, and they invest tens of millions of dollars annually in the maintenance and operation of over 20 skilled craft apprenticeship training centers across the region.
Although recent media reports convey a sense of alarm at the potential for skilled worker shortages in this region, our approach will be to convince the region's business leaders, lawmakers, and community leaders to view this as an opportunity to embark upon a workforce development strategy that not only meets the needs and concerns of developers and construction contractors, but also presents an approach that can move traditionally disadvantaged populations out of hopelessness and despair, and onto a career training path that can lead to a lifetime of economic security.
And the vehicles through which we will advance our notion of "value" to construction end-users, government officials and community leaders will be project labor agreements (PLAs) and community workforce agreements (CWAs).
Over the past decade, PLAs and CWAs have emerged as one of the best vehicles for establishing strong job quality standards on publicly-funded or subsidized construction projects, and for outlining a plan to recruit and hire low-income and disadvantaged workers onto those projects. A community workforce agreement consists of a project labor agreement that includes a targeted hire provision designed to get low-income workers into construction careers.
CWAs are powerful and effective tools for a number of reasons. Negotiating a PLA/CWA brings building trades unions and the trades council together with the project user/owner, the general contractor, and community organizations to jointly develop the terms of the project. This creates greater project efficiencies, leading to a greater likelihood of "on time, on budget" results.
Local governments have seen these agreements as a value-added for projects where the public investment must be safeguarded. They help prevent delays, maintain workplace safety, and ensure high-quality construction products, all of which help protect taxpayers’ investments when public money funds some or all of the project.
Local governments in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland, Cleveland and New York have pioneered efforts to negotiate and implement CWAs. Their experiences point to clear lessons for other cities, and show that CWAs can make construction projects better for government, workers, contractors and communities.
It will be the primary objective of C.H.O.I.C.E. to deliver this type of value, and these types of results, to the greater Baltimore, Washington, DC/Northern Virginia construction market.