General Secretary, International Association
of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Ironworkers
Eric Dean is a tradesman—one who traded a flannel shirt for a suit when
he was appointed general secretary of the International Association of
Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Ironworkers by General
President Walter Wise earlier this year.
“I’m a fourth-generation ironworker,” says Dean, who adds, “I just don’t
forget that I’m a working man who happened to assume a leadership position
with the Ironworkers.”
Dean says while his roots may be in Ornamental, Architectural and Miscellaneous
Metals, the opportunity to work with all facets of the Ironworkers is
a great one. He took the time to talk with USGlass about his new role.
USG: You were recently appointed general secretary; what does this
ED: Constitutionally I am the officer just
below the general president. And I attend to all contract matters; all
communication to and from the International goes through my office to
the members and the local unions and then any communication we receive
from employers, members, requests for information … my office is responsible
for that. My office also oversees collective bargaining, bylaw changes,
elections, etc. And I still handle the Architectural Ornamental affairs
for the International. That’s the capacity I came with so I am currently
doing double duty.
USG: What will be your greatest personal challenges in this new
ED: Our general president set a goal
to double our market share—twice as many members and twice as many contractors
we work with—within a ten-year span. [We] will do that through aggressive
training and top-down and bottom-up organizing.
USG: What formal training is available for ironworkers?
ED: … Since 1999 a third or a quarter
of our training is geared toward the architectural metals/glass and glazing
industry. We’ve developed a full spectrum of textbooks and hands-on training
units that we’ve implemented in more than 100 of our training sites.
USG: What is the average number of ironworkers working now compared
to before the recession? How are you helping your out-of-work members?
ED: The average number varies area
to area based on specific work, but I can say in my own local we’re probably
working a little less than 55 percent of the 2008 hours. So while we have
many members unemployed, we also have many members working short weeks
and we call those underemployed. We’re helping them out with everything
from food banks to extending health insurance coverage [as] a lot of people
… are at the tail end of their insurance coverage or unemployment. Each
local union in each region deals with it slightly differently and then
as a parent organization we’re looking at any way we can provide assistance.
USG: There has always been concern that unions provide workers
to companies that are fly-by-night and that the “quality” companies are
then forced to make up for it. How would you respond to that?
ED: … There are some contractors that
lack the experience, depth and professionalism of others, but the union
can’t be the measuring stick as to whether a person is a sound businessperson.
We try and offer a level playing field from the standardized skill levels
of our workers. We believe we have a pool of skilled workers that contractors
can draw from. We’re willing to work with anyone who is the successful
bidder on a contract and offer our pool of skilled workers; oftentimes
we cannot control management decisions. But the contractors [with which
we work] have to have some kind of track record … they are a licensed,
bonded contractor that has some kind of workers compensation, a business
track record or bonding capacity.
USG: There seem to be a fair number of jurisdictional squabbles
between the glaziers unions and ironworkers unions; how do you respond
to those who say this is a very unhealthy situation?
ED: It’s unhealthy if we bring those
disputes to the jobsite. Often we have a mechanism where we keep our disputes
away from the contractor and off the site. And there is a jurisdictional
board that hears both sides and often makes a decision, but there have
been few [disputes] lately.
USG: Is there anything you’d like our readers and the industry
ED: I am proud of the Ironworkers’
accomplishments within the industry. I am proud of our training curriculum
from a theory side and a practical side and our engagement of the contractors’
ability to mobilize and work throughout the United States and Canada—whenever
they call we’re at a beck and call to the employer and we continue to
raise the bar [on] training.
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