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Epiphany: Electrical Union Realizes Its Labor May be Too Expensive


When an electrical workers union realized it was losing work because of the high cost of its labor, it decided to do something about it: introduce cheaper laborers that don't have to complete normal (and expensive) union requirements.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers is hoping to become more appealing to businesses by hiring workers that are cheaper to train, and thus cheaper for customers to employ.

Chicago Union News explains the move:

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers plans to add a new classification of workers who will not be required to complete the union’s standard training program and, as a result, will receive less pay than many card-holding electricians. ...

Typically, union electricians must finish a five-year apprenticeship program -– 8,000hours of classroom and on-the-job training –- before they are certified as journeymen.

The extensive training is what usually separates union tradesmen from nonunion. The new grade of workers, who are called construction wiremen or construction electricians, will fall in between apprentices and journeymen in experience.

The mandate is coming from the union's international leadership, which believes that the union will now be able to capture work that many businesses have farmed out to non-union companies because of costs. But the move has local members in Chicago appalled and upset:

“If you start bringing in workers for 40 percent of what journeymen make, those journeymen are never going back to work,” said a Local 134 member who asked to remain anonymous. “If the contractors can get it done for less money, that’s what they are going to do.”

Business Insider gives a simple reply: "Exactly."

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