I would like to draw your attention to several problems with the article "Employment Growth Is Leveling Off" (ENR Construction Facts, November 2003 p. 62). The introductory paragraph discusses construction trends for 1993-2000 and 2001-2003. In contrast, the table "How Construction Union Membership Is Changing" is for an entirely different time period, 1995-2000.
Instead of allowing readers to draw conclusions about the strength of the construction industry versus the strength of construction unions, the mismatched time periods only serve to mislead the reader and allow the data to be misused.
For example, while the 2000 figure for the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers (BAC) membership was 63,784, the 2003 figure based on per capita dues paid to the AFL-CIO (which BAC provided to ENR) exceeds 90,000. BAC membership figures for the period 1995 to 2000 are well over 100,000, which is a 10% increase, while the AFL-CIO figures for 2000-2003 show even greater growth. Those are dramatically different figures than the ones you printed.
I appreciate that using per capita figures for BAC or any other union can be problematic. Membership numbers reported to the AFL-CIO do not reflect a unions total membership, but instead only reflect the number of U.S. members that a union made per capita payments on to the AFL-CIO at a given time. It is not uncommon for those figures to go unchanged for several years, or to change significantly in a given year, and unions do not pay on all categories of members. A more detailed explanation of the data source would have been helpful. Better yet, ENR should use the more reliable L-M Report filed with the Dept. of Labor.
Unfortunately, while most groups understand the weaknesses of the AFL-CIO per capita data and use them carefully, others that would like to dismiss the important role that unions play in the U.S. construction industry, or undermine BAC, have latched on to the "Facts" issue as an accurate portrayal of our strength.
BAC has always reported the good and bad news about membership and we are the oldest continuous construction union in North America.
January 19, 2004