Volume 46, Issue 9 - October 2011

Eric Dean
General Secretary, International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Ironworkers

Eric Dean is a tradesman—one who traded a flannel shirt for a suit when he was appointed general secretary of the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Ironworkers by General President Walter Wise earlier this year.

“I’m a fourth-generation ironworker,” says Dean, who adds, “I just don’t forget that I’m a working man who happened to assume a leadership position with the Ironworkers.”

Dean says while his roots may be in Ornamental, Architectural and Miscellaneous Metals, the opportunity to work with all facets of the Ironworkers is a great one. He took the time to talk with USGlass about his new role.

USG: You were recently appointed general secretary; what does this position entail?
ED: Constitutionally I am the officer just below the general president. And I attend to all contract matters; all communication to and from the International goes through my office to the members and the local unions and then any communication we receive from employers, members, requests for information … my office is responsible for that. My office also oversees collective bargaining, bylaw changes, elections, etc. And I still handle the Architectural Ornamental affairs for the International. That’s the capacity I came with so I am currently doing double duty.

USG: What will be your greatest personal challenges in this new role?
ED: Our general president set a goal to double our market share—twice as many members and twice as many contractors we work with—within a ten-year span. [We] will do that through aggressive training and top-down and bottom-up organizing.

USG: What formal training is available for ironworkers?
ED: … Since 1999 a third or a quarter of our training is geared toward the architectural metals/glass and glazing industry. We’ve developed a full spectrum of textbooks and hands-on training units that we’ve implemented in more than 100 of our training sites.

USG: What is the average number of ironworkers working now compared to before the recession? How are you helping your out-of-work members?
ED: The average number varies area to area based on specific work, but I can say in my own local we’re probably working a little less than 55 percent of the 2008 hours. So while we have many members unemployed, we also have many members working short weeks and we call those underemployed. We’re helping them out with everything from food banks to extending health insurance coverage [as] a lot of people … are at the tail end of their insurance coverage or unemployment. Each local union in each region deals with it slightly differently and then as a parent organization we’re looking at any way we can provide assistance.

USG: There has always been concern that unions provide workers to companies that are fly-by-night and that the “quality” companies are then forced to make up for it. How would you respond to that?
ED: … There are some contractors that lack the experience, depth and professionalism of others, but the union can’t be the measuring stick as to whether a person is a sound businessperson. We try and offer a level playing field from the standardized skill levels of our workers. We believe we have a pool of skilled workers that contractors can draw from. We’re willing to work with anyone who is the successful bidder on a contract and offer our pool of skilled workers; oftentimes we cannot control management decisions. But the contractors [with which we work] have to have some kind of track record … they are a licensed, bonded contractor that has some kind of workers compensation, a business track record or bonding capacity.

USG: There seem to be a fair number of jurisdictional squabbles between the glaziers unions and ironworkers unions; how do you respond to those who say this is a very unhealthy situation?
ED: It’s unhealthy if we bring those disputes to the jobsite. Often we have a mechanism where we keep our disputes away from the contractor and off the site. And there is a jurisdictional board that hears both sides and often makes a decision, but there have been few [disputes] lately.

USG: Is there anything you’d like our readers and the industry to know?
ED: I am proud of the Ironworkers’ accomplishments within the industry. I am proud of our training curriculum from a theory side and a practical side and our engagement of the contractors’ ability to mobilize and work throughout the United States and Canada—whenever they call we’re at a beck and call to the employer and we continue to raise the bar [on] training.


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