The Future of Construction Work with Mark Ehrlich

Mark Erlich interview

In this episode of the AEC Business podcast, I had the pleasure of speaking with Mark Ehrlich, a veteran of the construction industry from the USA and the author of “The Way We Build: Restoring Dignity to Construction Work.” Our conversation delved into the evolving landscape of construction work and the challenges faced by construction workers today.

Mark shared his extensive background, starting as a carpenter and rising through the ranks to become the head of a 25,000-member union organization. His experience spans decades, and he has authored three books and numerous articles on labor issues.

The historical labor shifts

We discussed the historical shift from a predominantly unionized construction workforce to the current bifurcated system in the US, where union strongholds in the north contrast sharply with the non-union, lower-wage environments in the south and other regions. Mark highlighted the issues of wage theft, declining safety standards, and the exploitation of undocumented workers.

The conversation also touched on the universal trends in construction, such as the globalization of the labor force and the challenges of maintaining high standards and benefits for workers in different countries.

Mark emphasized the need to address the misclassification of workers and the underground cash economy that undermines labor standards. He also spoke about the technological advancements in construction, including the rise of off-site prefabrication and digital tools like BIM, which are changing the nature of construction work.

Looking into the future

Despite the challenges, Mark remains optimistic about the industry’s potential to provide fulfilling careers. He advocates for bringing the workforce out of the shadows, regulating the industry to ensure fair treatment, and encouraging unions to adapt to the 21st century.

Listeners interested in learning more about Mark’s insights can find his book through the University of Illinois Press or Amazon. Mark also welcomes further discussion and can be reached via his email at Harvard Law School: .

About Mark Erlich

Mark Erlich has been a Wertheim Fellow at the Harvard Law School’s Center for Labor and a Just Economy since retiring as Executive Secretary-Treasurer (EST) of the New England Regional Council of Carpenters. A member of Carpenters Local 40 since 1975, he worked at his craft as an apprentice, journeyman, foreman, and superintendent before winning election as Business Manager of his local in 1992.

Erlich has written and lectured extensively on labor issues. He is the author of two books, With Our Hands: The Story of Carpenters in Massachusetts (1986) and Labor at the Ballot Box (1990), both published by Temple University Press.

A new book, The Way We Build: Restoring Dignity to Construction Work, was published in 2023 by the University of Illinois Press. He has also written dozens of essays, articles, and op-eds on labor history and contemporary union issues in academic publications such as Industrial Labor Relations Review, Harvard Business Review, and Labor History, as well as popular journals and newspapers ranging from the Boston Globe to The Nation.

For more details on this enlightening conversation with Mark Ehrlich, tune in to the full episode and explore the future of construction work and the dignity of the construction worker. You can also ask the chatbot about the podcast.

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