Labor observer sees continuing slide in unionized construction workforce

An Associated Builders and Contractors analysis of 2023 union membership data published by finds at least 90 percent of workers in the private construction industry do not belong to a union in 29 states, up from 26 and 24 states in the prior two years. North Carolina, Mississippi, Maine, South Carolina and Texas lead the current list of states with the highest percentages of nonunion construction workers.

Nationally, an all-time high 89.3 percent of construction workers are not part of a union, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, up from 88.3 percent in 2022. “Approximately 7.9 million construction industry professionals did not belong to a union in 2023, and the number of merit shop construction professionals continues to grow year after year,” says ABC Vice President of Regulatory, Labor and State Affairs Ben Brubeck. The trend is counter to pro-organized labor White House policies, he adds, that “threaten to inflate construction costs, steer public works contracts to donors with little competition, and exacerbate the construction industry’s skilled labor shortage—all of which stand to undermine taxpayer investments in America’s infrastructure, clean energy and manufacturing projects.”

“All qualified contractors and their employees should be encouraged to bid on and build taxpayer-funded construction projects, so they can be awarded based on cost, quality and safety, not union affiliation,” he concludes.

SJ&L General Contractor LLC faces $16,100 in proposed penalties—the amount set by federal statute—after Occupational Safety and Health Administrators investigators determined last month that the Huntsville, Ala. firm exposed a 19-member crew on a local concrete curbing job to extreme heat hazards. Amid a 107° heat index and 85 percent humidity, the July 2023 incident saw the death of a 33-year-old finisher who had exhibited signs of heat illness two hours prior to being admitted to the hospital.

“Had the employer ensured access to shade and rest in brutal heat, this worker might not have lost their life and would have been able to end their shift safely,” says OSHA Area Office Director Joel Batiz in Birmingham, Ala. “Regardless of the season, summer or winter, employers must establish rest cycles, train workers in identifying signs and symptoms of weather exposure, ensure workers have time to acclimate to temperatures, implement and follow safety plans, and ensure those plans are monitored. If not, weather conditions can have severe—and sadly, sometimes fatal—consequences, as they did in this case.”