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Compare and contrast
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A popular line thrown out by those looking to denigrate unions is that "they may have had a purpose years ago, but not anymore." They also like to say that there is no difference between union and nonunion construction.

The lie is clear when you look at many aspects of the industry, from training to benefits to safety and working conditions. But all too often a client says they are only concerned about the bottom line. To which the simple answer is: yes, of course.

Consider a common example: a hospital needs to do an addition or renovate existing space. Is the bid price the most important consideration? What about the financial risk of hiring an unqualified or substandard company and the impact that would have on the bottom line of the entire facility, not just the construction project?

Here's where the union advantage trumps a nonunion bid that appears to be a few percent lower: The United Brotherhood of Carpenters has developed a training program for apprentices and journey level workers called "Best Practices in Health-Care Construction in Occupied Facilities." It was developed through a cooperative effort of national leaders in health care, construction management and union training programs.

Once developed, the program was taught to hundreds of UBC Trainers who took the program back to their local areas and held classes with carpenters in the field.

The curriculum, in part, includes teaching "awareness of hazards, including asbestos, lead, mold, silica, and other materials, as well as blood-borne pathogens and other hospital-specific concerns. Trainees learn how to identify and classify work areas to maintain an environment that can minimize risks, illness, and injury. Specialized clothing and equipment are part of the package."

Sure, the program costs money, but because the investment is made on a national level between labor and management partners, it provides a tremendous bang for the buck. Local health care facilities gain piece of mind that not only are union workers earning a decent wage, they're provided decent health care benefits that allow them to get treatment in the very facilities they're building AND they've got the cutting edge skills to ensure health care providers offer the best care during and after the project is complete.

Nonunion contractors may save a few dollars on the bid documents, but lack of training, questionable access to reliable, skilled workers and a "slap dash" approach put projects and health at risk. Consider one contractor hired on several hospital jobs in New England who seems to show little regard for limiting the risk of infection.

It would be interesting to study not only the cost over-runs due to shoddy work but the number of infections reported in the hospital before, during and after the highlighted projects. More educational would be to then compare those numbers to ones from hospitals who used union carpenters that completed the "Best Practices" program developed by the Carpenters Union.

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