By ALAN J. ORTBALS
The Carpenters Regional Council of St. Louis and Kansas City logged more than 25 million man-hours during 2017, the first time that figure has been exceeded in 10 years.
All construction sectors were strong, said Al Bond Jr., the union’s executive secretary-treasurer. Multifamily residential building continued its robust run as millennials are waiting longer to get married and buy homes. But, single family home building built steam through 2017 as well, said Bond. And the Carpenters wrapped up some major commercial projects like the HSHS St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in O’Fallon, Ill. and BJC HealthCare in St. Louis.
The Carpenters, like other skilled trades, are experiencing a worker shortage. A combination of the Great Recession that caused construction workers to seek other employment and a flood of retiring baby boomers have trade unions working hard to attract apprentices.
“There is a need for skilled tradespeople,” Bond said. “There are only a few vocational schools left and high schools are not encouraging young people to enter into a skilled trade. We need to be able to communicate to parents and teachers that becoming a carpenter or an electrician or a pipefitter or an ironworker is a good way to go. There are benefits. There is full-family health insurance, a great pension, free training. It’s a great opportunity. The biggest reason there is a national shortage of skilled tradespeople is because more and more states have become Right to Work states and Prevailing Wage laws have been repealed which has led to unions going out of business. Therefore, training skilled workers has stopped.”
With multiple large commercial projects in the offing, Bond said he expects 2018 to be as strong as 2017.
Site preparation work is underway on the $1.75 billion National Geospatial Intelligence Agency project on N. Jefferson and, Bond says, developers are looking at residential and commercial developments nearby. Work has also begun on the $770 million Centene project in Clayton.
In mid-December, developers broke ground on the second phase of Ballpark Village. Jointly developed by the St. Louis Cardinals and The Cordish Companies, Phase II will consist of a 297-unit apartment building, a 216-room hotel and the first new office building built downtown in 30 years. And, just down the street, HDA Architects will soon begin development on a new, 33-story apartment tower.
In 2018 the Carpenters union will be fighting the battle of the ballot box, working to repeal Missouri’s Right to Work law that was passed last year. Missouri voters will decide the issue in November and Bond is confident they’ll vote to repeal. “Once people understand what right to work means,” Bond said. “Nine out of 10 say, ‘Man, I wouldn’t support that.’”