After a nearly eight-year absence prompted by jurisdictional disputes and strategy differences also shared by other disaffected unions, the International Union of Operating Engineers said Dec. 19 that it will reaffiliate with the main group of building trades.
The reconnection officially adds 380,750 North American members to the group and nearly 100 apprenticeship programs.
The operating engineers has $332.9 million in assets, making it the tenth largest union in the AFL-CIO. The union had never left that organized labor umbrella group but was joined by the laborers’ and teamsters unions in bolting from the building trades in 2006.
The unions returned in 2008, but the carpenters, which left some years before, have remained independent. There is a lawsuit pending between the carpenters' union and the building trades.
The building trades now represent 14 unions with more than 3 million trade members. “Even when we were not affiliated with the building trades, quite a few of our locals remained affiliated on the state level,” says operating engineers’ spokesman Jay Lederer. “So, a lot of those relationships remain intact. Remaining united is more beneficial for members.”
Sean McGarvey, building trades’ president, says his group worked with operating engineers’ top officials while the union was unaffiliated and that Canadian locals have remained affiliated. He says operational and jurisdictional issues that led to the disaffection were "dealt with."
James T. Callahan became union president in 2011, succeeding Vincent Giblin, who had led the union to depart.
“We’re not looking back. We’re looking forward,” says Lederer. The union is focused on growth markets such as petrochemical work. It plans to build a large training center near Houston.