RELEASE: Report Details Erosion of Pennsylvania Construction Industry Job Quality and Proposes Path Forward

Author of “The Way We Build: Restoring Dignity to Construction Work” Lays Out Strategies to “Build Forward” in Pennsylvania’s Construction Sector

HARRISBURG – A new report, based on the book The Way We Build: Restoring Dignity to Construction Work by Mark Erlich, a fellow at Harvard Law School’s Center for Labor and A Just Economy and former Executive Secretary-Treasurer of the New England Regional Council of Carpenters, sheds light on the historical and political developments that have negatively impacted the quality of construction jobs in the United States. 

The report, also written by Erlich and released by the Keystone Research Center, underscores the urgent need for concerted action in Pennsylvania to address these challenges, offering an evidence-based appeal to policymakers, regulators, enforcement agencies, and industry stakeholders (unions and workers, contractors, and construction customers (“owners”) to “build forward better” in construction. 

The report provides a detailed analysis of the industry’s evolution, including the impact of worker misclassification, anti-union efforts, and the rise of non-union organizations. It also sheds light on the decline in productivity and the implications of a poorly trained workforce.

According to Stephen Herzenberg, Executive Director of the Keystone Research Center, “The deliberate attack on construction unions has had detrimental effects on the industry and its stakeholders. It is time to shift our focus towards promoting a high-wage, high-skill construction industry that benefits not only workers but also law-abiding contractors and construction customers.”

The report offers seven complementary strategies to build forward better in Pennsylvania’s construction sector. These strategies include:

  1. Fleshing out a more detailed, research-based picture of the PA construction industry, including alternative future paths, so that policy can be designed to achieve a more productive, higher skill path;
  2. Maintaining and strengthening labor standards, like prevailing wage laws, including on expanding renewable energy and climate projects; 
  3. Enacting local and state “responsible contractor” laws that reward contractors with robust apprenticeship programs, good safety records, and no history of legal violations;   
  4. Promoting a coordinated state-local-stakeholder effort to enforce labor standards; 
  5. Giving priority to responsible contractors in awarding subsidies for new hires through the new five-year, $400 million Commonwealth Workforce Transformation Program;  
  6. Making Pennsylvania a leader in diversifying the pipeline to union construction careers; and 
  7. Exploring industry-government cooperation to accelerate construction industry innovation. 

“By implementing these strategies, Pennsylvania can serve as a model for the nation, demonstrating the benefits of a high-wage, high-skill construction industry,” said report author Mark Erlich.