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The Final 3 Ways Union Contractors Cheat

5.) Use Helpers and “Truck Drivers” to do Signatory Work

Union Contractors Cheat

Helper cutting copper

I may get some grief for this but the bottom line is even seemingly squeaky clean contractors do this and it’s the contractors that do the biggest volume that benefit the most. Unions across the country usually have “helpers” or “metal trades” cards that they allow seasonally or when times are really busy. It’s a way to get cheap summer help or allow someone to be organized through experience. They aren’t supposed to do signatory work, no sweating copper, no roughing of waste and vent piping. They are supposed to clean up the job site, cut and de-burr pipe, etc. However, contractors abuse this loophole because helpers and metal tradesmen are not let go during off months. Quite often they are brought in the “shop” and they prefab everything they can under the guidance of a shop foreman. The contractor can justify this to himself by saying “well they are going to be plumbers someday” but they aren’t now and they are doing a ton of plumber/mechanical work that should be done by a much more expensive journeyman. This happens with the “shop” or truck driver as well. Most shops don’t have their shop truck making deliveries all day so when the driver comes back to the office he or she does prefab. Taking advantage of prefabbing with low wage workers is a huge advantage and it’s where a job can be won or lost.

How can the union catch on? It’s a tough nut to crack. You have individuals that want to be in the union someday, they are getting an opportunity to learn the trade before they go to school so they are very unlikely to squeal on their employer. There aren’t a lot of journeymen in the shop so no one really knows or cares as long as their shower valves and vent bars are done correctly they are all good. The only real way to see is to have the Business Agents drop by the shop to see what’s going on. However, they cannot enter the facility unless asked. They’re like vampires. So again this is tough to find and tough to prove.


6.) Use Expelled Union Workers to do Signatory Work

This is such a shady practice but it does happen because I’ve seen it with my own eyes. A union contractor will hire an expelled union tradesman to work on everything and pay him significantly less because this person is desperate. They are trained and probably pretty decent workers that have lost their way so the contractor takes advantage of them because this person needs to feed their family. It’s parasitic and disgusting but it happens. It’s hard to prove this as well because it’s highly unlikely that this person will drive a company vehicle and they will probably work alone a lot so it’s like chasing a ghost and the union has no time for ghosts. They go after the companies with the biggest target on their back, the ones that they can find.


7.) Do a Job Off the Books

Finally, we get to our last and it is very common as well. The contractor simply does an entire job off the books for cash. No estimate, no time sheets, no receipts, nothing. This may be a project the owner himself works on with a helper or with a very trusted employee. They believe if they don’t take the job someone else will and make money on it. Their benefits are paid through their other “on the books jobs” so there is no risk of losing them during the duration of the cash job, so no harm no foul.


You may get done reading this and ask “why does the union put up with these contractors, audit after audit?” The answer is real simple, other than the last two examples the contractors involved employ and pay a ton of money in benefits for the people they pay on. If they shut them down they leave hundreds of men and women unemployed and they themselves lose that revenue coming in, so they are hog tied as well.

I hope you enjoyed and I hope it opens some eyes. If you’re a contractor “I see you” and if you’re an employee watch your benefits.



Warm Regards,

Sean Kavanaugh

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