An influx of immigrant labor entering the construction workforce and reduced roles for unions have allowed companies to minimize increases in salary and benefits for workers in the construction trades. However, the elements of jobs which encourage young people to consider the field – salary, health insurance, retirement, career advancement, training, job security and good working conditions have eroded at the same time. Of interest is the loss of employer sponsored retirement plans.
In an industry which takes a toll of injury and wear and tear, retirement benefits are rare. The Center for Construction Research and Training reports that construction workers are less likely than other workers to be eligible for retirement benefits. From 2000 to 2010, the percentage of wage-and-salary construction employees eligible for retirement benefits of any kind dropped from 46% to 38%, the Center reported. Union workers are more likely than non-union workers to be offered retirement benefits by their employer. In California, 74.6 percent of workers covered by a collective bargaining agreement reported being offered a retirement plan through their job compared to 39.7 percent of non-union workers.
Behind many of these benefit losses lies the dynamic of decreasing union representation. The Labor Center at Berkley studied the impact of the loss of unions on wages and benefits. The power of collective bargaining has long been recognized as helping set higher wages and benefits and improving working conditions for both members and nonmembers. Only 9.2% of non-public sector employees in California are members of a union. “Unions increase the likelihood a worker will be offered a retirement plan on the job by 51.5%.”
The Center for Construction Research and Training reports that from 1985 to 2010, the proportion of workers aged 45 to 64 years increased from 25.1% to 38.7%, a 54% boost. The proportion of younger construction workers under age 35 years decreased by 71% in the 16- to 19-year age group, 50% in the 20- to 24-year age group, and 26% in the 25- to 34-year age group over the same period. Despite an influx of younger immigrants entering the construction trades, the workforce is aging. While lack of retirement benefits may keep older workers in the workforce longer, the situation is a time bomb as younger workers opt for more attractive careers. It is imperative to make a career in construction attract and retain a quality workforce.