Unions are answer to state’s labor shortage

Good wages, training can help rebuild the workforce

MASSACHUSETTS HAS a crisis on its hands. The Commonwealth faces an alarming labor shortage, with fewer people participating in the workforce and more of the Commonwealth’s residents choosing to move elsewhere. The cost of living is skyrocketing causing many to face hard economic decisions. We cannot afford to ignore this problem, but it’s also a problem with an achievable answer: labor unions.

To attract and retain new workers, we must provide workforce training and help people meet the exorbitant cost of living. At Massachusetts Building Trades Unions, that’s exactly what we do. 

Workers with union wages and benefits earn enough money to support their families, invest in their homes and neighborhoods, spend money in their local communities, and provide opportunities for their children. Unions are the foundation of a strong middle-class.

The facts speak for themselves. The US economy was booming when union membership reached a peak in 1945 when over 33 percent of all American workers belonged to a union. When union membership was highest, the share of income going to the wealthiest Americans was lowest. Unsurprisingly, income inequality rose as anti-labor attacks reduced union membership over the following decades.

Through the work of building trades, the construction industry contributes over $22 billion to the state economy. In fact, as we celebrate our annual convention this month, the venue will serve as proof of our impact. MGM Springfield was built with a diverse union workforce, including over 500 residents from Hampden County. MGM’s construction also contributed $512 million to the statewide economy. 

We know that you can’t have a thriving economy without thriving families. That’s why we offer industry-leading wages to more than 75,000 people. As a result, Massachusetts is among the top five highest-paying states for construction jobs. By ensuring that the largest workforce in the state earns living wages that can sustain families, we can drive our economy forward.

Good benefits go hand-in-hand with good wages. That’s another area where you can see the union difference. Nationwide, 96 percent of union workers have employer-provided health insurance, compared to 69 percent of non-union workers. In Massachusetts, building trades unions spend more than $1 billion annually to keep families healthy, providing comprehensive coverage to more than a quarter of a million construction workers, spouses, and children. We also provide retirement benefits to tens of thousands of seniors across the Commonwealth, ensuring people can retire with dignity and security.

Unions have been at the forefront of ensuring everyone can participate in that prosperity. We’re leading the way when 92 percent of women apprentices and 86 percent of apprentices of color can proudly say they are union members. Through programs like Building Pathways in Boston and Community Works in western Massachusetts, we uplift women and people of color for hands-on classroom and paid on-the-job training so they can rise to become apprentices and journey people.

Those programs are part of our extensive efforts to create a world-class workforce. Our unions have over 40 training facilities across the Commonwealth, and we invest more than $60 million annually in training. By setting the highest training standards for our members, we ensure they deliver the highest quality of work. You can always count on unions to finish the job right the first time.

The work that building trades unions have been doing — ensuring good wages, benefits, and training for workers — is how Massachusetts will solve the labor shortage. Our unions have already made progress in getting more people into the workforce. By the end of last year, there was an increase of nearly 12,000 construction jobs from the previous year.

President Biden often says, “The middle class built America, and unions built the middle class.” That’s especially true here. The answer to our state’s labor shortage lies with the hardworking men and women building our communities and our future. Massachusetts unions are creating life-changing opportunities for all workers, welcoming more women and people of color into their ranks, offering paid training, family-sustaining wages, top-quality health insurance benefits, and secure retirement. Supporting our unions is the first step to creating a fairer, stronger Massachusetts where we can all thrive.

Frank Callahan is the president of Massachusetts Building Trades Unions (MBTU).