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Roundtable Discussion with North America’s Building Trades Unions President Sean McGarvey on COVID-19, Racial Inequality, Workforce Training and Infrastructure

  • June 19, 2020

Sean McGarvey, President, NABTU

Sean McGarvey, above, President of North America’s Building Trades Unions (NABTU) and Roundtable President Jeffrey DeBoer this week discussed compelling issues of importance to CRE and the Trades, including COVID-19 responses, infrastructure investment, racial inequality,  workforce development, infrastructure and capital investment.  (Watch the remote discussion on The Roundtable’s Youtube channel.)

  • NABTU is an alliance of 14 national and international unions in the building and construction industry that collectively represent over 3 million skilled craft professionals in the United States and Canada.
  • DeBoer and McGarvey’s discussed possible ways the two sectors could work constructively together on issues, including:
  • COVID-19.  McGarvey commented on how at the onset of the pandemic outbreak, a large amount of NABTU’s workforce was laid idle.  The unions urgently worked with DHS and state leaders on how the construction industry could remain in business by pursuing guidance with federal agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Centers (CDC).  NABTU’s extensive efforts in funding COVID-19 vaccine research and trials are also recounted. 
  • Nondiscriminatory work environments.  The discussion touched on NABTU’s June 1 statement issued in response to the nationwide protests over racial inequality.  In the remote discussion with DeBoer, McGarvey said, “At this point where people want to compare it to 1968 … its so much different now that I really thing we’re going to get somewhere this time. And the Building Trades when it comes to diversifying our membership … we even have a couple dozen formerly incarcerated programs where we are teaching curriculum inside the state prison system (until Covid came) to prepare people for when they get out to come into our training programs and go to work.”
  • Apprenticeships and training.  “There’s only one institution in the world that trains more people in hard skills than NABTU. That’s the United States military,” McGarvey noted.  The unions and their signatory contractor partners invest over $1.6 billion in private-sector money to fund and operate over 1,900 apprenticeship training and education facilities across North America that produce highly trained, craft workers.  Several Roundtable member companies participate in NABTU workforce programs.
  • Infrastructure. The effectiveness of public-private partnerships in large infrastructure investments was addressed by DeBoer and McGuire.  The two also discussed the difficulty of financing construction projects during the pandemic and how it affects the economic security of the entire industry.  The Roundtable is currently working with policymakers and stakeholders to develop and enact an effective pandemic risk/business continuity program that would add more confidence to the marketplace while a health solution is vigorously pursued on the medical front.
  • Capital investment strategies.  NABTU has interests in nearly $700 billion of capital investments and assets that include funds focused on pensions, commercial real estate development, infrastructure and other investment.   “We are about partnerships,” McGarvey noted. “We are partnered with public pension funds who see it like us … who want a minimum amount of standards of who they are going to lend to and who they are going to invest with.  So you take our nearly $700 billion … we are thinking that in about 3 years we’ll be up to about $3 trillion worth of pension fund money that’s going to have minimum requirements.”    

The remote discussion concluded on a positive note about exploring possible ways The Roundtable and NABTU could work together on mutually beneficial issues.

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