Bureau Of National Affairs
Laborers' Coia Urges Closer Communication
On Labor-Management Cooperation Issues
LAS VEGAS--True teamwork and cooperation between labor and management requires more than occasional perfunctory meetings, Arthur Coia, president of the Laborers' International Union of North America, told a March 23 session of the Associated General Contractors' convention.
Addressing AGC's union contractors committee, Coia stressed the importance of regular communication during the term of a collective bargaining agreement "to share each other's commitment" and asking for help when needed. This must be done, he said, if the parties expect to meet marketplace demands and achieve their ultimate goal of providing steady employment for union craft workers and making money for contractors. "Profit and bottom line is what we are here for," he said.
Coia acknowledged that this is "easy to say" but takes "guts and will power" to execute. "We're in a business mode," he said. "We have a product you need to make you more profitable."
Responding to Coia's observation that more and better meetings are needed between labor and management, one committee member commented that AGC's union contractors and basic-trade union presidents have not met regularly. The AGC-Basic Trades Committee met in July 1998 and will meet again next month, according to a staff report.
Coia said he could not speak for other building trade union presidents but encouraged members of the union contractors committee to "reach out to other union presidents" who have been reticent about communicating.
Union presidents have an obligation "to account for themselves ... and are accountable to their members and [signatory union contractors]," he said. Coia cautioned, however, that "the fact we are union presidents does not mean we all think alike."
Coia assured the AGC audience that his union is flexible and willing to be pragmatic in responding to industry needs for the "disciplined, productive, well-trained workers" the construction industry needs.
If the industry needs brick masons or cement finishers or roofers and they are not being provided in sufficient numbers by other unions, Coia said his union is ready to train and provide these workers. "It may be a bold statement but it's a necessity," according to Coia.
"We must be in a position that, if another union cannot supply workers, we can stand up to the plate and supply those workers," he said.
Approximately 55,000 LIUNA members are in apprentice programs or receive journeyman upgrade training each year, Coia said. While that is an accomplishment, many more apprentices are needed to meet growing demand for skilled workers, he added.
Asked about LIUNA's relationship with the United Brotherhood of Carpenters, Coia praised UBC President Douglas McCarron as "very capable" and possessing "a good business mind." He acknowledged some jurisdictional disputes with the Carpenters but said he sees no reason these differences cannot be resolved. Coia expressed confidence that jurisdictional issues between the two unions can be resolved and that together the two unions could become "a formidable force to make you more profitable."
He made similar observations about the United Association of Plumbers and Pipe Fitters, with whom LIUNA also has had a number of jurisdictional disputes. Talks on this issue have been "very successful," he said, reporting that the two unions "have made a commitment" to resolve jurisdictional problems and avoid job disruptions.