What is merit shop philosophy? It is a belief that the free enterprise system, uninhibited by government over-regulation or interference, provides the best opportunity for qualified individuals to excel in their craft. It is a competitive way of doing business that encourages fair play, economic growth, and job creation. It is a principal which, while focusing on safety and workforce development, rewards personal initiative, skill, and drive to succeed.
The term “merit shop” was first used by John Trimmer of Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC). As early as 1952, Trimmer used the term to highlight the goal of ABC to see construction contracts awarded on the basis of merit and not labor affiliation. ABC continues to be active in the effort to encourage competition and free enterprise within America’s business community and the construction industry.
Currently, in the United States, 86% of construction workers choose to work in a merit shop environment. These workers have greater control over their career goals and retirement savings options than their closed-shop peers. What’s more, merit shop workers have the opportunity to broaden their skill set by cross training in a variety of trades, also known as multiskilling. The merit shop workforce leads the construction industry in safety, training, and innovation.
Union work rules often prohibit cross training by establishing strict job descriptions which prevent one union worker from taking work that would historically belong to a union worker from another trade. This practice, called “featherbedding”, artificially reduces the approved work for a given employee to thereby, unnecessarily, spread employment to a greater number of workers or to increase time to completion. These and other union practices often get in the way of timeliness and accuracy on the job.
When government buckles to pressure from union lobbyists, Project Labor Agreements (PLA) create a monopoloy for closed-shop companies, and drastically reduce competition on bids for public construction projects. Essentially, PLA’s are government mandates that require that contractors be hired primarily on the basis of labor affiliation, and not on efficiency or lower cost. This not only results in fewer employment opportunities for the vast majority of America’s construction workforce, but also results in increased costs for every tax payer.
“Nonunion contractors have developed strategic advantages in the workplace by streamlining operational costs and using labor more efficiently through multiskilling. PLAs eliminate these efficiencies and prohibit taxpayers and private project owners from getting the best possible product at the best possible price. It’s another reason to oppose PLAs and promote open and fair competition on public and private construction projects.”
-Ben Brubeck, “Understanding the Merit Shop Contractor Cost Advantage.”
Furthermore, union organizers are responsible for persuading legislators to impose licensing requirements that contain clauses intended to eliminate merit shop small business from the market. Licensing laws attempt to limit the accepted educational requirements to union-sponsored training programs. While licensing can be a positive step toward ensuring public safety, equivalent, and oftentimes superior, private-sector training programs, such as the National Association of Elevator Contractors’ CET (Certified Elevator Technician) program, must also be recognized as satisfying educational requirements, in order to encourage free trade.
For small businesses with the drive to succeed, and to provide customers with the best value for their dollars, merit shop philosophy just makes sense. When hiring is done on the basis of skill, experience, and enthusiasm for the job, contractors have the flexibility and tools to get the job done right, and on time. Merit shop companies have the ability to be the catalyst that will drive our economy when given the freedom to compete.
“ABC Elevator Contractors Council (ECC)-Elevator Contractor and Mechanic Licensing Issue Brief” www.abc.org, Associated Builders and Contractors, Inc., 2016. Web. February 29, 2016.
Ben Brubeck. “Understanding the Merit Shop Contractor Cost Advantage.” TheTruthAboutPLAs.com, The Truth About Project Labor Agreements, May 17, 2010. Web. February 29, 2016.
Joanna Masterson. “60 Years and Counting: The Story of ABC.” Constructionexecutive.com, Construction Executive, January 1, 2010. Web. February 29, 2016.
Wikipedia Contributors. “Merit Shop.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, March 14, 2015. Web. February 29, 2016.