COMING SOON Cook recaps ABC’s history. (Photo by Janice L. Tuchman
for ENR)

Renowned labor relations attorney A. Samuel Cook gave the Associated Builders and Contractors an insider’s look at his upcoming new book Freedom in the Workplace, The Untold Story of Merit Shop Construction’s Crusade Against Compulsory Trade Unionism.

At the group’s national convention in Orlando Feb. 19-22, Cook vividly described the physical, legal and moral collision between the merit shop philosophy and unionism. He told war stories about how violence erupted on the nation’s construction sites in the 1960s and 70s and traced the watershed events that gave birth to the merit shop.

Philip Abrams, former assistant secretary of the Dept. of Housing and Urban Development and now a Brookline, Mass.-based attorney, said he witnessed the union "mobocracy" from his public sector position. But he pointed to a change in union practices–getting more competitive on wages and reforming work rules. He sees a "danger" there because all nonunion contractors do not belong to ABC. Some don’t pay fair wages or provide benefits, and those are susceptible to organizing, he said.

Gary Roden, ABC’s new chairman, responded that his strategy is "less about reacting to unions and more about providing member companies with the skills they need to move forward in training our work force, in technology and in project management." Roden, who also is executive vice president and COO of Aguirre Corp., Dallas, added, "If unions take the same strategy, more power to them, because that will make the industry a better place."

Carole Bionda, immediate past chair, said she sees huge untapped potential for membership–now 23,000 member companies–as the economy turns up.

Roden said a major legislative push will be for the Association Healthcare bill, which would allow associations to provide affordable health insurance. ABC also is looking for legislation to codify the executive order banning union-only project labor agreements.