IMPACT Conference Addresses Working Wellbeing, Industry Challenges

Industry challenges and worker concerns dominated discussions at the 2023 North American Iron Workers/Ironworker Management Progressive Action Cooperative Trust (IMPACT) Conference in mid-February.

The three-day event in New Orleans hosted contractors, ironworkers and owners from North America.

A New Healthcare Model

Ironworkers and glaziers deal with mechanized equipment and large products, such as steel beams and jumbo glass, that all pose a danger. Injuries are common, which means healthcare is vital to ensuring workers are treated promptly and cost-effectively. Paul Wende, business manager and financial secretary/treasurer of Ironworkes Local Union No. 63, said companies suffer when employees are out due to lack of care, be it illness or injury. In an effort to better care for employees, several unions from different trades have forgone traditional healthcare and collaborated to use centralized wellness centers.

Wellness centers house a wide range of health professionals such as doctors, psychologists, nutritionists and other health professionals.

Wende explained that the shift to wellness centers has reduced waiting times to four minutes for his members. Additionally, he went from spending 15% on healthcare costs to around 9%. He added members can still use traditional healthcare avenues.

Erosion of Mental Health

Jim Frederick, OSHA’s deputy assistant secretary of labor, said construction workers face many work-related stresses that increase suicide risk. These factors include uncertainty of seasonal work, demanding schedules and workplace injuries that are sometimes treated
with opioids.

Josh Rizzo, an industry consultant, veteran and owner of Josh Rizzo Human, explained that leaders and workers must keep their eyes open and notice the signs of distress. The signs include hopelessness, withdrawal from friends, dramatic mood swings, increased alcohol/drug usage, poor sleep and depression.

Rizzo said leaders of construction workers, ironworkers and glaziers need to offer clarity, show growth and display trust.

“For every construction fatality, there are five suicides,” he said. “We have to get people to that door. As leaders, we have to get people help.”

Recessionary Concerns

Anirban Basu, chairperson and CEO of Sage Policy Group Inc., said inflation is the current U.S. pain point. The Federal Reserve tries to solve this by shrinking the money supply through incremental rate hikes. The goal is to usher in a soft landing.

Basu explained that the economy might accelerate thanks to the Fed’s bullish response to rising inflation. However, much of the inflation is labor related. Employers are struggling to fill jobs, which in turn increases wages.

Basu said that from 1980-2023, the percentage of people in the labor force has decreased, most notably among men between 16-19 (-23.2%) and 20-24 (-14.1). The lack of male participation is particularly devastating for construction jobs; however, the construction industry has added 270,000 jobs since the start of the pandemic-related recovery.

Despite several sectors rebounding, Basu said there are still 11 million unfilled jobs in the U.S.

“If you want a job in America, two are waiting for you,” he said. “There’s a lot of demand for human capital.”

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