Minnesota construction workers especially hard-hit by recession


Construction jobs have dropped in nearly every U.S. community, but Minnesota is among the hardest-hit, according to an analysis released at this year’s convention of the Minnesota Building & Construction Trades Council. Unions participating in the convention said government must act to restart the industry and restore jobs.

From June 2008 to June 2009, Minnesota lost 18,000 commercial and residential construction jobs – 16.2 percent of the employment in that sector – according to an analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics reports by the Associated General Contractors of America.

Duluth-Superior lost 2,800 jobs – 31 percent of overall construction employment – and had the third highest losses of the 352 communities surveyed. The Twin Cities weren’t far behind, hemorrhaging 16,200 jobs – 21 percent – and ranking 324 out of 352 in employment.

“Construction workers remain, unfortunately, on the leading edge of job losses during this recession,” Ken Simonson, chief economist for the national contractors association, said in the analysis released last week. “While other sectors of the economy have been hit hard, construction employment has been devastated.”

More than 200 metropolitan areas suffered double-digit percentage declines in construction employment in the past 12 months, he said.

Federal stimulus not enough

Dave Semerad, chief executive officer of Associated General Contractors of Minnesota, reviewed the grim statistics with union delegates from across the state gathered in Rochester for the Building Trades annual convention.

Thousands of union members are “on the bench” and many contractors are struggling in the slow economy. Federal stimulus funding, while helping many areas, is not affecting 70 percent of the state’s construction industry, he said.

“The stimulus bill is not enough. Especially it’s not enough if you work in the building sector,” he said. “We need to have some kind of stimulus program at the state level … to stimulate construction.”

Delegates to the convention concurred, passing a resolution urging that “creation of jobs will be the No. 1 priority in the 2010 legislative session.”

Minnesota Building Trades President Dick Anfang, presiding over his last convention before retirement, said the Legislature failed to pass a jobs bill in the 2009 session that was supported by both business and labor.

The “Vertical Construction Stimulus Bill” would have created several programs to encourage economic activity and development, including a loan guaranty fund, restrictions on certain environmental reviews, new revenue bonding for green building projects, tax credits for historic rehabilitation and low income housing, special assessment authority for energy improvements, tax increment financing projects and a state loan program to advance federal first-time home buyer credits.

Business and labor will be back again in 2010 to seek passage of such legislation. In addition, they will be seeking a sizeable bonding bill to build infrastructure and create thousands of jobs.

Elected officials make promises

At the convention, Minnesota House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher announced the creation of a bipartisan Minnesota House Jobs Task Force to focus on ways to promote job growth. The group, which will begin meeting this month, will be charged with developing a plan for the 2010 legislative session.

Other elected officials, including several candidates for governor, also addressed the convention and promised to take on the crisis in construction.

State Senator Tom Bakk, a gubernatorial candidate and union carpenter, said he would work to “put Minnesotans back to work in a big way.” Other governor hopefuls at the convention included Rep. Tom Rukavina, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman and Rep. Paul Thissen.

Not only jobs but “good wages,” must be a focus, said state Rep. Tony Sertich of Chisholm.

The elected officials – all DFLers – uniformly blasted Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty for policies that have aggravated the sluggish economy and led to even more job loss.

Support people-powered non-profit journalism! Volunteer, contribute news, or become a member to keep the Daily Planet in orbit.