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Union finding new ways to grow, while bringing diversity to its membership

Kevin McCabe is president of the Carpenter Contractor Trust of New York and New Jersey.-(PHOTO BY AARON HOUSTON)

Kevin McCabe is president of the The Carpenter Contractor Trust of New York and New Jersey. He’s been with the union since 2005 is a former commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development.NJBIZ asked McCabe about some of CCTNYNJ’s efforts to not only survive today, but also grow in the construction industry for years to come.

NJBIZ: What are some of the growth challenges private trade unions have faced?

Kevin McCabe: The world changed after September 2008. Whether you are in organized labor, finance, the auto industry or the service industry, we were all impacted by what took place. The construction industry certainly felt the effects and part of that impact was a decrease in membership.

But with any ebb and flow in economy, there came a point when we started to see membership grow again.

Some good did come out of the recession. The carpenters and union contractors recognized that this was a period of time in which they could revisit their business models and understand the changes taking place in the industry.

The changes that took place after the recession were not just one-time issues. These were new economic factors and new realities. Our carpenters and union contractors now understand that we are more of a business partner than we had been prior to 2008.

NJBIZ: Can you give an example of how you’ve become a business partner?

KM: Our leadership understood that, in order for us to be competitive, we were going to have to be part of the solution. We had the ability, through a pension fund manager, to invest in construction projects we deemed appropriate. While the discussions and the planning for investing started before 2008, when the recession hit we quickly understood that it was time to act.

When the credit markets froze, no one could get a bank loan to do construction. We were one of the few entities working within the industry willing to provide the financial resources necessary to get some of major construction projects (in the state) off the ground.

NJBIZ: How has your apprenticeship program and training evolved?

KM: We recognize that, up until about 15 years ago, most of the trades were generational — grandfather to father to son. Today, fathers want to see their sons go to college. That’s a reality we have to contend with.

To make sure we are growing our membership and continue to have a relevant place in the economy, we need to diversify our membership and diversify our approach to apprenticeship. We have a program called “Sisters in the Brotherhood.” We are working aggressively to attract more women into the apprenticeship.

Also, we signed an agreement with the Puerto Rican Association of Human Development to establish a pre-apprenticeship program. The pre-apprenticeship program helps individuals take the first steps toward joining our apprentice program. PRAHD does the recruitment and helps the recruits with the basics they will need to prepare for the job. We then evaluate those individuals and work together to help them pass the necessary exams to become a full-fledged apprentice.

We need to understand where we were within the construction industry, where we now are within the industry and where we need to be. As the sectors we serve evolve, we have to be right there, evolving right there with them.

Daria Meoli

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