Along-running jurisdictional dispute between bricklayers and cement masons that was settled in February by a federal arbitration panel may not yet have closed the door on the unions’ conflict.

The panel concluded that future disputes between the bricklayers’ union and the operative plasterers and cement masons’ union should be "resolved in favor of the work assignment of the involved employer." Arbitrators ruled solely on work assignment disputes, rejecting the bricklayers’ request to merge the two unions. The panel also ruled that reinstatement of a "map system" that divides up the labor market would not resolve the battle.

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Cement masons’ union General President John J. Dougherty claims victory in the dispute, asserting that his union "could no longer tolerate wholly artificial territorial allocations where the [cement masons’ union] provided the bulk of the manpower in [bricklayer] areas and were expected to leave working dues behind to [bricklayer] locals that had become nothing more than toll collectors."

But bricklayers’ union President John J. Flynn argues that the ruling "effectively ensures that competing jurisdictional claims for plaster and cement masonry will continue unabated, with both unions free to pursue concrete and plaster work without limitation."

Which union wins the work may boil down to dollars and cents. "At a certain point, competition becomes a monetary issue," says a bricklayers’ union source. "It’s not rocket science." He claims that cement masons have offered lower rates in some cities where they historically have not competed, but where the bricklayers have a collective bargaining agreement.

These markets are primarily in the upper Midwest and along the East Coast. "At the end of the day, contractors have to bid work on the basis of cost," the source notes. "We can’t abandon rates that have been bargained." But the union admits it has to position its signatory contractors to remain competitive.

Wage discrepancies between the two unions are not significant, on average only about $1 to $1.50 per hour, depending on the region. As of Jan. 1, the national average hourly wage and fringe benefit rate was $35.19 for cement masons and $36.15 for bricklayers, according to Robert M. Gasperow, executive director of the Construction Labor Research Council, Washington, D.C.

The cement masons have "always stayed with the prevailing-wage rate," says Michael J. Gannon, union vice president and director of jurisdiction. "We realize that in order for our members to make money, our contractors have to make money," he says. But Gannon says he is more concerned about competition from nonunion firms. "We can’t compete with nonunion contractors on a clear dollar basis," he says. "The way we compete is that we have the best qualified people."