The 2023 North American Iron Workers/Ironworker Management Progressive Action Cooperative Trust (IMPACT) Conference kicked off on Monday, Feb. 13, 2023, at the Hilton New Orleans Riverside. The event brings together contractors, ironworkers and owners from North America to address various topics, including healthcare, labor laws, wages, the economy and much more.

The sessions began with a discussion about improving healthcare for workers. Paul Wende, business manager and financial secretary/treasurer of Ironworkers Local Union No. 63, says that healthcare is crucial for trade workers due to the nature of their work.

A New Healthcare Model

Construction workers, 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 that healthcare is vital to ensure that workers are treated promptly and cost-effectively. Wende says that companies suffer when employees are out due to lack of care, be it illness or injury.

A nearly full conference room with one end lit in blue.
The 2023 North American Iron Workers / Ironworker Management Progressive Action Cooperative Trust (IMPACT) Conference brings together contractors, ironworkers and owners from North America to address various topics.

He adds that curbing healthcare costs while increasing benefits is critical to protecting workers and business interests. In an effort to better care for employees, several unions from different trades have forgone traditional healthcare and collaborated to use centralized wellness centers.

“We put a lot of money into healthcare, and we’re looking for ways to curb that,” says Wende. “We want our members to be healthier.”

Wellness centers house a wide range of health professionals centrally located to promote overall health. A wellness center can employ doctors, psychologists, nutritionists and more.

He explains 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%. Wende adds that members can still use traditional healthcare avenues; wellness centers are an alternative that has proven beneficial.

Wende says that the collaboration not only lowered healthcare costs but it has built a partnership between unions from different trades, such as ironworkers, plumbers and cement masons.

“If you can make this work for you, I highly recommend that you do this,” he says. “Healthcare costs are not going down. You have to take care of your people. They will love you for it.”

Global Market Outlook

Kristina Hooper, the chief global market strategist at Invesco, discussed the economy, saying that the global gross domestic product has recovered from the pandemic. However, interest rates have risen. Hooper says that banks are trying to tamp down demand and slow economies.

“This a synchronized level of tightening that has not been seen in the past five decades,” she adds.

She explains that controlling demand is only part of the picture for the inflation we have seen. On one side of the equation, you have increased government spending, monetary stimulus and increased savings. This places too much money into the economy.

On the other hand, there is a decrease in raw material supplies, supply chain disruptions and fewer workers. This leads to fewer goods. Inflation is going to be high in the short term but lower in the long term, says Hooper. She adds that inflation could be around 4% in 2024 or near 2% in the next five years.

While inflation is easing in the U.S., she says wage inflation is still high and is likely to remain stubbornly so due to labor shortages. Hooper notes that employment rates remain low and should not be impacted by increased interest rates.

Jobsite Challenges

Where is the work?

Pat Di Filippo, executive vice president of Turner Construction Co., says construction companies are losing jobs. Di Filippo explains that the losses can be traced to a slowdown in office, warehouse, retail and hotel projects.

“It’s sticky out there,” he says. “The work is going away.”

The big projects are where most of the work is, he adds. This includes large technology companies that are building data centers throughout the country. Di Filippo explains that the construction industry has to prepare for the “chip world.” This includes knowing what these tech companies want. Di Filippo says that for tech companies, safety and diversity are paramount.

“As a result, workers need to be mentally and physically fit,” he adds. “… The most important person is the worker on the job. The next important person is the client. If you respect that client, you will get the work.”

The 2023 North American Iron Workers/IMPACT Conference runs until Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2023. Stay tuned to USGNN™ for more coverage.