New York, NY — Denise Richardson is Executive Director of the General Contractors Association (GCA), a trade association that represents the union employers in heavy civil construction.
Heavy civil includes transportation, roads, bridges, parks, mass transit and rail construction, water and waste water systems, waste water treatment plants, and street reconstruction, and other public works projects. The GCA members employ over 25,000 people. In addition to union craft workers, the GCA members employ engineers, project managers, accountants, human resources and other administrative and professional personnel. LaborPress talked with Richardson to learn more how she came to her job, the Association, and what people should know about its work with unions.
Richardson started at the GCA as Deputy Director, becoming the Executive Director in 2009. “My involvement with construction industry labor relations came through my position here at the GCA. I have a graduate degree in Urban Planning and Public Administration. Over the course of my career prior to the GCA I worked in city government, the private sector and the MTA on a variety transportation and infrastructure issues.
“A large part of what the GCA does is to negotiate and manage the collective bargaining agreements that pertain to our heavy civil unions. We also represent the employers as the employer trustees for the union benefit plans.”
Richardson says the relationship between GCA and its unions is characterized by respect and professionalism. “I think we have very respectful and positive relationships with our unions. We do have disagreements but we resolve them in a respectful way, so both sides understand each others’ concerns and we can compromise. It’s a professional relationship that we have worked very hard to establish,” she says.
Richardson’s positive attitude towards unions is in evidence when she talks about one issue in particular: “There has been a great deal of negative press around unionized construction in general. Oftentimes in the construction industry construction unions are blamed for the high cost of construction when there are many other reasons for high costs. There are a host of other factors such as regulatory and other requirements.” These, she believes, should be looked at more carefully before judgements are made.
She is also proud of GCA’s role in increased construction industry safety. “If you look at what we have done with our unions in the last ten to fifteen years in the area of construction site safety, we have turned union construction site safety to positive indicators for how unions and employers can work together. A lot of work goes into how we build, how we train, how to operate the job sites. Safe work practices are taken very seriously by our employers and our unions and have generated positive results.”
The role of the unions in supplying highly skilled and well-paying jobs is something else she singles out for praise. “I don’t think that’s well known and often not appreciated,” she says. “These are well-trained, skilled, and thoughtful people who build complex projects. The construction industry workforce is not given enough recognition for the skill and professionalism that they bring to these jobs and they should be recognized as professionals, because that’s who they are.”