The Building & Construction Trades Department History

The Building and Construction Trades Department (BCTD) is a branch of the AFL-CIO. The BCTD is responsible for coordinating the activities of the thirteen affiliated International unions in the construction industry. The function of the BCTD is to; make job sites safer, coordinate apprentice and journey level training, support legislation that supports working families, assist in improving wages, hours and working conditions, settle jurisdictional disputes between the affiliates and lead the drive to organize new members.

The foundation of the BCTD began in 1903. The largest building trade unions joined together to form the Structural Building Trade Alliance (SBTA). This organization lasted until 1908, when they changed their name to the Building Trades Department of the American Federation of Labor. The Building Trades Department was formed to serve as one voice for arbitration, adjudication, and the conduct of Building Trades affairs. The charter required all specialty trades to merge with their respective primary trades. The new slogan was “one trade, one union.”

During the first forty years, the BCTD devoted their energies towards creating organizational stability. This achievement was not a simple task given the structure of the construction industry. The general contractor can hire some trades directly, while other specialty trades are hired through independent employers. The different sectors of each trade are often broken down into different skill categories that include high skilled and high paid workers all the way down to low paid and low skilled workers. The result is that the low skilled workers would often have to rely on the highly skilled workers to support their efforts during a strike.

The most critical change that occurred to the BTD occurred in 1929. The stock market crashed and the construction industry had more than 30 percent of their workforce unemployed. Prior to the crash, the BTD had taken a hands-off approach towards politics. With the high level of unemployment the BTD soon realized that if they were going to survive the depression they would have to participate in the political process. Their involvement and pressure in the political arena led to the passage of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) in 1935, also referred to as the Wagner Act. The act established employee rights to organize, join a union, and to engage in collective bargaining. It established unfair labor practices for employers, made it unlawful for employers to interfere with the right to join a union, and made it illegal to discharge employees who engaged in union activities. Employers were also required to bargain in good faith.

During World War II the BTD began to form alliances with the Associated General Contractors of America. This new alliance joined together to fight the use of day laborers on government jobs. This new cooperative helped to create the “wartime stabilization agreement” that established the standards for wages and conditions on government jobsites. The government worked hand in hand with this Labor/Management association to construct factories and defense plants in a timely fashion. This was the first time that contractors and unions united for a common cause.

Several problems developed that were not anticipated by the Building Trades Department (BTD). The BTD and the affiliated Internationals often wind up in a dispute over whose duty it is to institute policies on issues such as; strikes, arbitration, national agreements, and organizing. When jurisdictional decisions and policies are rendered by the BTD, they lack the power to compel unions to comply with them. This has created an environment where the losing union could simply walk away from the Building Trades Department, when a decision was rendered against them. The secondary part of the problem is that the International Unions lack the power to compel local unions to join or quit the local Building Trade Councils.

The amount of members that each International represents has created a controversy since the inception of the BTD. In jurisdictional dispute hearings, the larger Internationals would argue that their size should give them priority in determining trade jurisdiction rights. In election procedures the argument still persists on whether votes should be apportioned by the size of the International and the amount of per capita dues it pays, or apportioned equally to each international regardless of size. The battle cry of the larger Internationals has always been “taxation without representation.”
Within the trades a long history of jurisdictional dispute over turf has damaged the reputation of the unions with employers and building owners. Outside of the trades’ charges of racism, sexism, and soldiering on the job has undermined their credibility with the public. The consequences have been costly. At the turn of the twenty first century building trades represented less then 20 percent of the workforce. This was a sharp contrast from the conditions that existed from 1940 through 1960, when they claimed over 50 percent of the workforce.

The result of the decline in membership has led Mark Ayers the new president of the Building and Construction Trades Council to come out with a new Mission Statement. The following is the new direction for the BCTD.

Mission Statement

What Do We Do?

The Building and Construction Trades Department, AFL-CIO, (BCTD) provides essential coordination and support to the work of its affiliated national and international unions in order that, through inter-trade solidarity, organized construction workers achieve a powerful voice in government, in bargaining, and in their communities. For nearly a century, the BCTD has secured the trade jurisdiction and autonomy of its affiliates as the respected arbiter of trade issues and through that work has contributed to the continuity of employment and economic security of organized construction workers in the United States and Canada.

The Governing Board of Presidents and Officers are assisted in implementing policy through the work of seven standing committees. The policies of the Governing Board and the broad of the Convention are carried out by the BCTD Officers and Staff Departments, and through the efforts of 386 state, local and provincial councils in the United States and Canada.

The standing committees of the BCTD are: Apprenticeship and Training; the Canadian Executive Board; General Presidents' Committee on Contract Maintenance; Labor-Management Committee; Legislative Task Force Committee; National Organizing Committee; and the Women in the Trades Committee. The chair of each standing committee devotes considerable time to lead the committee and works in concert with the staff of the BCTD.

The important work of the BCTD is in the detail and the daily implementation of policy. That work revolves around three crucial hubs of activity: Legislative and Governmental Affairs; Field Services; and Labor-Management Relations.

Our Mission - A 21st Century Commitment to Excellence

The Building & Construction Trades Department, AFL-CIO (BCTD) is an alliance of craft unions that are the best choice for highly skilled and highly productive construction labor. That's because the BCTD and its affiliated member unions demonstrate a concerted commitment to world class skills development and training; coupled with a 21st century labor/management model that is founded upon the principles of performance, pride, cooperation and partnership.

We have collectively embraced a new approach founded upon the strength of our being a most valued and trusted business partner. This is the promise and the commitment that we hold dear, and which we extend.