Photo Courtesy of IMPACT
Owners, contractors and unions together spur innovation, says Wise.

There was progress to report at the 2015 North American Ironworkers/IMPACT Labor-Management conference on key initiatives such as safety, market expansion and making signatory contractors more successful. With the union's membership now above pre-recession levels, the event drew 1,100 union business leaders and members, contractors and owners to Las Vegas Feb. 22-25.

"We have unleashed the power of collaborative innovation—taking the best thoughts from owners to contractors to unions to rank-and-file members—to do things better, and that's given us the confidence that we will be successful," said Walter Wise, general president of the Iron Workers International and labor co-chair of IMPACT.

One of those ideas is a new membership card with verifiable credentials that was rolled out to all union members in 2014. Contractors can "scan this card and find out what the man or woman is qualified to do—what safety training they have had, what welding training they have had, which courses they have taken," says William W. Brown, management co-chair of IMPACT and CEO of steel erector Ben Hur Construction Co. A QR code on the membership card connects to a web-based database with real-time updates.

Progress on safety included signing a partnership agreement between IMPACT and the Board of Certified Safety Professionals. "We're the only labor management group to sign such a partnership," Brown adds. "They will help us redefine and design safety programs."

Speakers discussed progress on the Gulf Coast Business Development Initiative, a region with a lot of work but where union ironworkers have had a low market share. "We have begun the process with owners coming to centers to show them the value of the training programs we have—that's our differentiator," says consultant Teresa Magnus of Magnus & Co. Business development specialists are now available to help contractors with marketing plans, she reports, and advise them on how to get through the process of becoming qualified to bid the industrial work. "More contractors bidding on projects is how we win more hours," Magnus notes.

Kevin Hilton, CEO of IMPACT, also reported progress in making the union's 3,000-plus signatory contractors better businesses. "We have invested significantly in dozens of training classes provided by [management consultant] FMI," he said, noting that many of the companies are run by former ironworkers who have strong technical skills but may not have the expertise to grow and expand their businesses.