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Message from the Co-Chairmen: Using Safety to Connect with Workers as Demand for Labor Rises

This is an especially important time to promote safety in construction and not only because of where we are on the calendar. Spring is traditionally when construction activity increases across many parts of the U.S. and Canada, and reminding workers about hazards they haven’t encountered for some time is a good safety practice. However, the reasons to focus on safety go beyond the time of year. They are rooted in one of the biggest challenges facing the construction industry today.

The demand for skilled construction labor isn’t slowing down. Month after month, the U.S. economy continues to trend upward, with recent jobs data showing that for a year now there have been more job openings than people looking for work. That hasn’t happened for almost twenty years. And while much has been made of the demand for workers with advanced degrees, reports show that employers are having an even harder time finding skilled workers at what have traditionally been considered blue-collar positions. That includes health care aides, restaurant workers, hotel staff and of course, construction workers.

This demand puts bargaining power squarely in the hands of the highly trained construction workers and contractors who can deliver projects safely, on time and on budget. The District Councils, Local Unions, members and signatory contractors that make up the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA) know that there’s no union better suited to meet the needs of today’s project owners. The safety difference between union and non-union construction is real. This month’s article detailing fatal falls among union and non-union contractors in New York State makes that clear. Other studies directly link unionization with lower rates of on-the-job fatalities.  At a time when having enough trained workers to complete the job is no longer being taken for granted, these facts should be a real selling point to project owners.

While the labor shortage gives added leverage to the workers and contractors who recognize the value of better wages, benefits and working conditions, it should also be viewed as an opportunity to show the value of a construction career to those not yet in the field. One way to accomplish that is to show potential new workers the role that safety plays at LIUNA signatory contractors and the significance that organizations like the Laborers’ Health & Safety Fund of North America (LHSFNA) place on advocating for LIUNA members.

This time of year offers ample opportunities to show potential new workers that the health and safety of LIUNA members is serious business. In April, LIUNA affiliates across the country were at the forefront of efforts to promote National Work Zone Awareness Week. Billboards, radio ads, videos on social media and in-person events at Local Unions and jobsites all spread the message that more must be done to protect construction workers and the traveling public in work zones. May brings the National Safety Stand-Down to Prevent Falls in Construction, an annual campaign that will lead LIUNA signatory contractors across the U.S. to pause work and hold events that focus solely on stopping deadly falls from occurring on construction jobsites.

May also marks the beginning of the Fund’s annual Sun Sense Plus campaign. For over fifteen years, the LHSFNA has provided a variety of products and educational materials to LIUNA District Councils, Local Unions and signatory contractors for distribution to LIUNA members. From neck flaps and cooling cloths to posters and information on identifying melanoma, these materials are a direct contributor to preventing and raising awareness about the hazards of skin cancer and heat stress among LIUNA members.

The primary goal behind events like these is always to protect the health and safety of LIUNA members and their families. But we should also be using this focus on safety to promote the value that partnerships between labor and management bring to both union members and signatory contractors. It’s one way to stand out from the crowd in a tight labor market that’s giving more and more workers the power to choose their next move.

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