In an effort to stimulate the construction industry and create work opportunities for local contractors and construction workers, some of New Jersey’s construction unions along with their managerial bargaining partners have agreed to a freeze in wage and benefit packages.

Members of the statewide associations of the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers, the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and the Laborer’s International Union of North America, along with Ironworkers Local 68, 350 & 399, and Dockbuilders Local 1456 have re-opened their respective contracts in order to help lower labor costs and kick-start building construction statewide.

The unions, which represent more than 30,000 members who work for the thousands of construction companies in New Jersey are under contract and were therefore not required to make any changes to their contract.  According to Jose Colon, business manager of he New Jersey Building Laborers District Council, the wage and benefit freeze was nonetheless needed.

“What is important is that we move projects out of the planning stage and into the building phase,” said Colon.

According to studies by the Federal Highway Administration, $1 billion spent on construction generates 27,822 full-time jobs, most of them in supporting industries.

“If our wage and benefit freeze can create job opportunities for our employers by making them more competitive, then it is a success, added Colon. “If construction can be a catalyst for economic growth in New Jersey as we think it can, then our sacrifices will be well worth it.”

The unions are also stressing that although the decrease in labor costs will make a significant difference after years of construction starts plummeting nationally, it will still continue to push for greater efficiency and effectiveness in its workforce through training and apprenticeship programs.

“Maintaining the best training program in the trowel trades industry is just as important during this economic crisis as it is when jobs are plentiful,” said Richard Tolson, Director, Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers of New Jersey.

Response to the wage and benefit freeze has been met by approval from employers and the developer community as well as officials representing commercial real estate.

“Private sector job growth as has been anemic in New Jersey the last ten years and this has contributed to historically high vacancy rates in our buildings,” said Michael McGuiness, CEO of the New Jersey chapter of NAIOP, the Commercial Real Estate Development Association. “Adapting to the new economic reality requires self-sacrifice and concessions, a fact our property owners know all too well, so the fact that the union contractors and workers are lowering labor costs is a real promising sign.”

In addition to the Building Contractors of New Jersey, several other contractor associations have agreed to the revised collective bargaining agreements that include a wage and benefit freeze. The new terms are also in effect for contractors represented by the Drywall Interior Systems Contractors of New Jersey, the Masonry Contractors of New Jersey, the Building Contractors Association of Atlantic County and the Building Contractors Association of South Jersey.

Most contract freezes went into effect on May 1, 2010 and the rest will go into effect starting November 1, 2010. The freezes will last one year from their starting date.