Despite record levels of employment, wage settlements for union construction workers in 2005 continued close to the pace set during the previous two years. In March, ENR’s 20-city average skilled labor index for bricklayers, carpenters and ironworkers posted a 4.1% annual increase for union wages plus fringe benefits (see table). This was up from 3.8% and 3.9% annual increases for March 2005 and 2004.

Union wages for 2005 tracked by the Construction Research Labor Council, Washington, D.C., recorded an average annual increase of 3.9% for 589 collective bargaining contracts covering 554,512 workers. The average wage-plus-fringe hourly rate for all construction crafts  currently is $40.09, according to CLRC. During the five-year period ending last January, rates are up 22.6%, which is the highest five-year increase since January 1987, says CLRC.

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    The largest average annual increase reported by CLRC was 4.7% for plumbers while teamsters won the smallest gain of 3.1%. Regionally, the largest increase was reported for New England, where union wages rose 4.9% last year. The smallest gain was in South Central states, which reported only a 2.5% increase in wages and fringes last year.

    Total employment in construction  rose 4.0% last year to a record 7.28 million. This was the largest percentage gain in six years (see chart). Most of the gain was in the strong housing market, which employed 5.9% more workers in 2005, while the heavy and civil engineering market hired 5.0% more workers. Work opportunities were a little more sluggish in the nonresidential market, where employment rose only 1.7%, to 746,000 workers. Construction unemployment rate fell to 7.4% last year from 8.4% in 2004.

    (Photo by Michael Goodman for ENR)