Mark H. Ayers, president of the AFL-CIO's Building and Construction Trades Dept. (BCTD), died suddenly early on April 8 in Washington, D.C., a department spokesman has confirmed. Ayers, who had been in the role since 2007, was 63 years old.
No details were released on the cause or circumstances of his death, but according to an industry group official with ties to the building trades, he suffered a massive heart attack that was fatal.
BCTD officials did not release details on a permanent or interim successor but say the department's governing board of presidents will make those selections. They did not say how soon either would occur.
Sean McGarvey is secretary-treasurer of the department, which has 13 member unions and about two million members in the U.S. and Canada.
BCTD officials said on April 14 that the funeral was set for April 18, 11:00am, at the Metropolitan Memorial United Methodist Church, 3401 Nebraska Avenue NW, in Washington.
Ayers, who previously had been director of construction and maintenance for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) based in Peoria, Ill., was the first union executive other than a general president to assume the building trades' top job. He was a 39-year IBEW veteran and also served as chair of the National Maintenance Agreements Policy Committee.
Ayers had announced March 23 that President Obama was set to address some 3,000 attendees at the BCTD national legislative conference on April 30 in Washington, D.C. Tom Owens, BCTD director of communications, says the conference "will proceed as planned."
Ayers had also served as secretary-treasurer of Washington-based ULLICO Inc., the union-affiliated insurance, investment and financial services company, since 2007.
Ayers succeeded Edward Sullivan as BCTD president at a time when three unions—the carpenters, laborers and operating engineers—had left the department and the AFL-CIO. The laborers rejoined both groups in 2008, but the carpenters and operating engineers remain unaffiliated.
In an April 9 statement, the BCTD termed Ayers "a labor leader of vision, innovation, passion and integrity" and said construction unions "were on the path to success and increased market share."
Ayers "had a keen understanding of what market share recovery would take," says Greg Sizemore, executive vice president of The Construction Users Roundtable, a Cincinnati-based group of mostly industrial owners. "It was obvious that the BCTD was continuing to strive to become more attuned to owner needs and expectations in an effort to be more attractive. Accordingly, I don’t think a change in leadership will be regressive, but will keep up the efforts Mark started to reform and improve the value proposition of union labor."
Adds James Williams, general president of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades: “Mark was a unifying force for not only the building trades, but also for the rest of the labor movement as well. He made it clear that he proudly represented the working men and women of this country, and made no apologies to political leaders on both sides of the aisle when standing up for their interests. Without a doubt, he was remarkable in the way he led this group of labor leaders in some of the hardest times the AFL-CIO has ever seen."