Faced with a shrinking membership, the United Association asked their members what they wanted, and  they listened. Then they changed their mindset, and began to change their approach for the future.

“We had a look at ourselves and make sure we were providing quality that comes from professionalism and accountability,” says Larry Cann, a United Association spokesperson.

“We have to compete for our work and be the lowest bidder or best quality in order to get the work."

Getting the job done

Unlike public sector unions, many of their members work on temporary construction projects.

“We’re like a business,” says Cann. “We have to compete for our work and be the lowest bidder or best quality in order to get the work. Our goal is to be the first choice of industry. We want them to think of us as their only choice because we’re professional and we’re accountable.”

Bob Blakely, Director of Canadian Affairs of the Building and Construction Trades Department, which oversees construction trade unions in Canada, puts it like this: “if I’m in the union working for Bill’s Plumbing, I probably make 20 percent more in the total pay package at the end of the day. Bill is bidding against Joe and Bob and George’s plumbing who are paying 20 percent less. The only way Bill gets the job, and the only way Bill is able to make enough money to stay in business, is that I’ve got to work at least 20 percent better,” says Blakely.

Working smarter

It’s about working smarter, not harder, Blakely emphasizes. The union provides members and their supervisors with better training, so the supervisor gets the people, materials, and equipment to the right place at the right time so the tradesperson can get his or her job done as quickly as possible.

The employer is their partner. “We’re committed to the success of our employers. If our employers are successful and make money, we have a job,” says Blakely.