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The One Stop Merit Shop

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In an ideal world, those who are more fortunate are those who are the most deserving. Opportunities would not present themselves simply on who you may know, instead they would become accessible through hard work and sheer talent. Unfortunately, we do not live in an ideal world and the dream of a meritocratic society often remains just that, a dream. However, while society may not have fully adapted the meritocratic approach, there are people who work every day to defend and advance the principles of the merit shop philosophy in the construction industry. These people are unbiased to race, color, creed, age, sex. These people focus on ability and determination to succeed. These people are those at ABC Michigan.

Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) is a national association with 69 chapters representing 25,000 merit shop construction and construction-related firms across the United States. ‘Merit Shop’ means the construction philosophy which encourages open competition and a free-market approach that awards contracts to the lowest cost responsible bidder based solely on merit as determined by contractor, regardless of labor affiliation.

CEO and President of ABC Michigan, Jimmy E Greene, took time out of his day to discuss a number of important issues the ABC are currently dealing with. One of the main issues the chapter faced recently was the union-led push to bring back a non-right to work state.

“That advocacy piece was to ensure that we remained a ‘right to work’ state. We advocate on behalf of our members to ensure that we have fair and open competitive commercial building here in the state of Michigan, that we have a robust workforce here in the state of Michigan, and more importantly, ensuring that we are a culture where new business wishes to come in and be able to build under those kinds of cultural and philosophical issues.”

The term ‘right to work state’ simply means that unionization is not compulsory in states where this law applies. Therefore, employers are not able to force employees to participate in a union or to pay union dues. If a worker is not in a right to work state, this mandates union participation, manufacturing, and some commercial aspects.

There are currently only 26 states who have the right to choose union representation. While recent political challenges have repealed right to work in Michigan, in a move that will lead to mandated unionism, Jimmy believes that this is not what the people of Michigan want. While he may not be able to speak for the whole state of Michigan, he can certainly speak for the construction industry within it.

ABC Michigan is an association driven by its members and everything the association does is for the benefit of its members. Listening to their members and finding the best way to represent them is a giant part of what this association does. “The association is nothing without its people. What do you advocate for? Who are you advocating on behalf of if not your members? That’s really what I love about our association. That we are advocating on behalf of real people who have real businesses, who hire real employees, and that’s what makes it all worthwhile. The building is nothing more than a name, a structure. The people that run or operate those companies, who work for those companies, that’s where advocacy really matters.”

“We are advocating on behalf of real people who have real businesses, who hire real employees, and that’s what makes it all worthwhile.”

With the members forming the core of ABC Michigan, it only makes sense that the association finds ways to celebrate and honor them. The Excellence in Construction (EIC) awards recognizes and promotes the quality workmanship by ABC merit shop contractors and their employees. Projects are judged by a panel of independent, non-member judges representing a cross-section of the construction industry including clients, facility directors, building inspectors, architects, and engineers from the Michigan area — almost like the Oscars of the construction industry.

Nominees compete against each other for the Michigan title, with the winner of Michigan going on to compete at national levels. When explaining to me how the competition process works, Jimmy compared it to The Miss America Pageants — each state finds one individual to represent that state nationally — which I must admit gave me a good giggle. While the process may be similar to that of Miss America, the “talent round” is in a league of its own. Nominees are competing against the best of the best within their industries and simply being nominated is an outstanding achievement in its own right. Recognition and publicity will be given to the Excellence in Construction winner in each category as well as the Project Manager, Superintendent, and/or Foreman on the project.

Having the option to attend these awards is something that not so long ago was unavailable. COVID-19 took its toll on the construction industry, and many are still dealing with the aftermath of the pandemic. While sickness seemed like the major threat at first, a lot of companies within the construction industry have been chasing their tail to try to get back on track.

“We have a terrible workforce gap. I’m not sure where everybody went, but that’s been a slowdown. When you have less workers to finish a project, this elongates the timeline, which of course pushes the backlog out further and further. It’s not the best environment to be in because building construction is not supposed to be permanent. You know, these are all temporary jobs. You start, you finish, you move on to the next one. So, the longer you’re on the job site, the longer the next job timeframe begins.”

While the condition of the industry itself suffered in certain areas, ABC Michigan’s business actually grew considerably. The pandemic brought on a lot of extra work such as readjusting building codes, separation of workspaces and more. The backlog of work which resulted from the pandemic has also ensured that ABC Michigan is in for a busy next year. If anything, the pandemic did not weaken ABC Michigan, it made them stronger.

As the association continues to grow and strengthen, at its core will always be their members. Everything ABC Michigan does, or every task they undertake, is done so with the benefit of their members at the forefront. While society may not have latched on to the meritocratic approach of making sure people are rewarded for their worthiness, you can bet that the people at ABC Michigan will continue fighting to make sure their members are rewarded on merit alone and continuing the business of a one stop merit shop.

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