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The Architecture Lobby
The relationship between the business of architecture and the nature of architectural work is fraught. Many celebrated firms have been built on the backs of young and often unpaid labor. To call this practice an open secret would be inaccurate. It isn’t a secret at all; for some firms, it’s standard operating practice.

The Architecture Lobby, founded in 2013 by Peggy Deamer, has begun the long and laborious process of addressing these issues. Today, the group has 16 chapters and 450 dues-paying members. (Yearly dues amount to 0.2% of total income, or about $100 for a $50,000 salary.) Recently, I spoke with the Lobby’s national organizer, Dexter Walcott, about the group’s recent efforts, its campaign to unionize the field, the Green New Deal, and the future of work.

MCP: Martin C. Pedersen
DW: Dexter Walcott

MCP: What’s the Lobby working on right now?

DW: The top three initiatives are the unionization campaign, the socializing of small firms, and the Green New Deal campaign. We’re also working to expand the “Not Our Wall” campaign to focus on the detention infrastructure, beyond the physical barriers and surveillance infrastructures.

MCP: So there are both national and local Lobby initiatives?

DW: Yes. There are chapters that are working on issues that are purely local. And then some chapters blur a lot, where there will be a national campaign that has a strong presence in our regional chapters. The “Not Our Wall” campaign, for instance, had a strong presence in the California chapters. The Green New Deal is a national campaign, but the New York chapter has a very strong presence with that.

MCP: Let’s pull a few of these issues out for closer examination, starting with union recognition. What’s your goal here, and how do you see that playing out?

DW: The end goal is to form unions of architectural workers. There are a number of ways that it can play out. One type of union we organize would be a single-issue union, where we would begin to organize architectural workers around a single problem within the profession and organize workplaces to form collective bargaining units around that issue. For instance, something like the eight-hour workday would be appealing in the profession. That covers a lot of the issues with one broad stroke, whether it’s the culture of overwork or the inability of people to have time to take care of themselves or their families outside of the profession. We could organize workplaces under a contract that only has one clause in it that would say, “We’re going to work for eight hours, five days a week.” That’s something that is appealing to the Architectural Lobby at the moment. And it’s so necessary in the profession right now.

MCP: Is your goal to go through the actual process of becoming a legally recognized union?

DW: Not necessarily. We’re more interested in helping workers build collective bargaining units. At the end of the day, the Lobby isn’t so concerned about being the legal entity. We want to see the sector have unions. The unionization working group has put together an amazing pamphlet on the steps to do this.

MCP: So some chapters might, ultimately, be purely local?

DW: Yes. Right now we’re organizing ourselves and trying to understand where the organization has power, and where we can leverage that power. It starts with a belief that we need to get tight around an argument, if we’re going to start organizing other people to commit to it. We don’t want to build an organization that just brings together like-minded people. We must become good at winning contentious arguments. You can’t organize a workplace by assuming, “Oh, everyone who already thinks like me will automatically join my group.” You have to engage in discussions with people who say, “I don’t think unions are going to help our industry”; or ask questions like, “Will that cut my pay?”; or say, “My boss is really good to me right now.”

It’s also important to have conversations with people about preserving things that are good about the profession. We need to reinforce the idea that unions aren’t just for times when everything’s falling apart, but are a way to ensure that things stay great and can get better. But the Lobby’s core position is
Wikimedia Commons/Ytoyoda
Last month, Foxconn said it would start plant construction in the summer amid rumors that the company was either scaling back the project or changing its nature from a manufacturing to a technology hub. Foxconn has consistently denied these rumors as well as speculation that it was going to hire workers from China to staff its operations.

The reality is that Foxconn is making progress on its plans for a manufacturing and R&D facility in Wisconsin, even if the pace is not as aggressive as some might have anticipated. So far, the company has built a 120,000-square-foot multipurpose building that will serve as an administrative headquarters for the contractors on site and Foxconn staff.

A tremendous amount of excavation and other site work has either been completed or is ongoing. Last month, Gilbane | Exyte awarded $34 million worth of contractors for site, road and drainage work.

The Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. is tracking the work completed so far, as well as the subcontractors and other local companies that participated. So far, there are about 75 Wisconsin-based companies that have performed work, providing everything from fencing to architecture services.

However, this isn’t the type of employment that counts toward the hiring goals Foxconn agreed to. In return for $3 billion in tax incentives, the company pledged to create a certain number of full-time positions. In 2018, Foxconn created 1,032 direct jobs, but only 178 of those positions qualified under the deal with the state because 854 were temporary construction jobs. This resulted in Foxconn missing its 260-job goal for 2018 by 82 positions and losing out on $9.5 million in tax credits.
Also included in the staff report to the authority was the fact that California state law allows a public agency to require a PLA. Lawmakers in many other states, however, don't. Last month, Kentucky became the 25th state to enact anti-PLA regulations mandated by state and local government agencies. Kentucky’s new law keeps its public agencies from requiring that bidders sign on to PLAs, although it does not ban the agreements altogether nor does it prevent contractors from entering into voluntary PLAs.

One of the arguments that opponents of PLAs use is that these agreements raise the cost of construction because higher union wages, fringe benefits and other perks that open shop contractors don’t always pay are written in. If nonunion contractors want to work on a PLA project, they must agree to abide by the agreement's terms.

However, on a $35 million wastewater treatment plant project in Ogdensburg, New York, using a PLA is projected to save taxpayers about $900,000, the Watertown Daily Times reported. An engineering and consulting firm hired to study the impact of a PLA on construction found that the city could save money by negotiating the end to some breaks, reclassifying some types of work and exempting the project from a local law that requires general, electrical, plumbing and HVAC work to be bid separately. Critics of the company conducting the study have criticized its methodologies and have accused it of pro-union bias.

Groups like the Associated Builders and Contractors have consistently fought against PLA mandates imposed by public agencies, claiming that they restrict participation by open shop contractors.
The construction market is enjoying a decade of steady growth, and most sector executives don’t see an immediate cause for concern. But there is a growing sense of unease that the U.S. economy is softening, which could put an end to the industry’s expansion.

The contrast between current conditions and future market expectations can be seen in the latest results of the ENR Construction Industry Confidence Index survey. The CICI remained static at 59 in the first quarter of 2019, from the previous quarter ending last year. Of the 205 executives from large construction and design firms responding to the survey, many believe the market will begin to decline sometime in 2020.

This sense of an impending downturn doesn’t mean that the current construction market is in trouble. Only 3% of survey respondents believe it has started to decline now, and only 6% say it could start in three to six months. On the other hand, 25% speculate the market will start to shrink in the next 12 to 18 months, compared to only 15% who believe it will still be in a growth mode in that timeframe.

The CICI measures executive sentiment about the current market, where it will be in the next three to six months and over a 12- to 18-month period. A rating above 50 shows a growing market. The index is based on responses to surveys sent between Feb. 28 and March 27 to 6,000 U.S. companies on ENR’s lists of leading general contractors, subcontractors and design firms.

CFMA: CFOs Prepare for Trouble
The contrast between what the industry is seeing in the current market and what it expects to see next year is even more dramatic in the soon-to-be-released results of the latest Confindex survey from the Construction Financial Management Association, Princeton, N.J., which show that CFOs are worried about the market climate in 2020.

Each quarter, CFMA polls 200 CFOs from general and civil contractors and subcontractors. The CFMA Confindex is based on four separate financial and market components, each rated on a scale of 1 to 200. A rating of 100 indicates a stable market; higher ratings indicate market growth.

“The Confindex fell from 114 in the previous quarter to 109 in the current quarter,” says Stuart Binstock, CFMA’s CEO, noting it is the lowest rating since late 2010, when the industry was struggling to climb out of a deep recession.

The bigger story is how the market is being viewed. The forward-looking “general business conditions” component plunged 11 points, to 102, while the “year-ahead outlook” took a similar dive, falling 10 points, to 95.

On the other hand, the Confindex components associated with the current market were stable. The “financial conditions” component remained steady at 115, while the “current conditions” component also was unchanged at 121.

Worrying About the Bottom Line

Even so, industry execs are watching news about the U.S. economy with growing concern. “I don’t know if it is what [CFMA members] are seeing in the market, or what they are hearing from economists, but they are worried about next year,” says Anirban Basu, CEO of economic consultant Sage Policy Group, Baltimore, and a CFMA adviser.

Basu says CFO members of CFMA are more focused on the bottom line than on markets. “There is a lot of work out there, but workers to do that work are getting more expensive, which means increasing volume does not necessarily mean increased profits,” he points out.

Despite the active market, firms are not necessarily awash in cash. Only 29% of CICI survey respondents report higher profits compared to this time last year, while 14.5% said profits were actually down. This compares to a year ago, when 37.1% said profits were up year-over-year, and only 11.8% said they had fallen.

Binstock notes a similar trend in the Confindex survey. In the last quarter, 39% of respondents believed that profits would be up next year, compared with the 27% who thought profits would be in decline, he says. The current quarter’s responses are in sharp contrast to the last quarter, with only 20% believing profits will be up next year, as opposed to the 37% who believe profits will be down.
Rebecca Cook/Reuters
A Manhattan Institute report offers strategies to revitalize such struggling cities as Johnstown, Pennsylvania; Pittsfield, Massachusetts; and Youngstown, Ohio.

In 2014, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced plans to build a $15 million film studio near upstate Syracuse, promising 350 high tech jobs. It was one of his many plans to revive the economies of upstate communities with state tax dollars. The facility, in an implausible location for filmmaking, was a flop that attracted little activity, and it was handed off to local government last year for the sum of $1.

This is emblematic of attempts to help America’s struggling post-industrial cities, now back on the national agenda in the wake of the 2016 election, in which Donald Trump won in key Rust Belt states on a promise to bring back jobs. But after 40 years of futile efforts to revive them, the question of how to help these cities continues to bedevil us.

After 40 years of futile efforts to revive them, the question of how to help these cities continues to bedevil us.

America’s most disadvantaged cities, too often left and behind and forgotten, were undone by powerful forces like deindustrialization and the rise of the global knowledge economy that undermined their economic raison d’être. Difficult as it may be to accept, until market forces swing back in their favor, no major economic recovery is likely for most of them.

But as I point out in a newly released Manhattan Institute report, this doesn’t mean adopting a rhetoric of hopelessness. Rather, it means instead of speculative projects or subsidies, their best strategy is to create the preconditions of revival by fixing their finances, reforming their governance, and rebuilding the core public services on which their residents depend.

What cities are we talking about here? If you ask someone to name a left behind industrial city, you’re likely to hear places like Detroit or Cleveland. They have challenges to be sure, but also much that is positive going on and, more importantly, they have high value assets around which to build a 21st century economy. Detroit, for example, has nine Fortune 500 headquarters, a major concentration of engineering talent, and is a hub for Delta Airlines with non-stop flights to Europe and Asia, among many other things.

The truly left behind and most forgotten cities are smaller places, many of which are little-known: Danville, Illinois; Johnstown, Pennsylvania; Michigan City, Indiana; Pittsfield, Massachusetts; and Youngstown, Ohio.

These metropolitan areas often have several strikes against them, including population loss, weak job markets, low value economies, a low share of adults with college degrees, and a central municipality that is financially distressed. They also have very few if any high value assets to rebuild their economies around. They usually aren’t state capitals and lack elite universities, Fortune 500 corporate headquarters, a major airport (or any airport), and name recognition.

For example, Flint, Michigan is a small metro area of only 400,000 people with no major corporate headquarters, no elite research university, and a very small airport. Only 21 percent of its adults have a college degree (vs. the 32 percent national average). It has one large foundation, but otherwise few assets around which to rebuild. It is a well-known city, but overwhelmingly for reasons such as its lead-water crisis and auto-industry collapse made famous by Michael Moore’s film Roger & Me.
Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times
Amazon on Thursday canceled its plans to build an expansive corporate campus in New York City after facing an unexpectedly fierce backlash from some lawmakers and unions, who contended that a tech giant did not deserve nearly $3 billion in government incentives.

The company, as part of its extensive search for a new headquarters, had chosen Long Island City, Queens, as one of two winning sites, saying that it would create more than 25,000 jobs in the city.

But the agreement to lure Amazon stirred an intense debate about the use of government incentives to entice wealthy companies, the rising cost of living in rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods, and the city’s very identity.

Amazon’s decision is a major blow for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio, who had set aside their differences to bring the company to New York.

But it was a remarkable win for insurgent progressive politicians led by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whose upset victory last year happened to occur in the district where Amazon had planned its site. Her win galvanized the party’s left flank, which mobilized against the deal.

As recently as Wednesday, the governor had brokered a meeting between Amazon executives and the union leaders who had been resistant to the deal, according to two people briefed on the sit-down. The meeting ended without any compromise on the part of Amazon, according to the people.

In recent days, backers had begun mobilizing and felt encouraged by polls showing broad-based support for the company. Some could be seen wearing pins in support of Amazon. But those efforts did not sway many critics, who opposed the company for its anti-union practices and for the changes they feared it would bring to Queens.

State Sen. Michael Gianaris, a vocal critic who was chosen for a state board with the power to veto the deal, said the decision revealed Amazon’s unwillingness to work with the Queens community it had wanted to join.

“Like a petulant child, Amazon insists on getting its way or takes its ball and leaves,” said Mr. Gianaris, a Democrat, whose district includes Long Island City. “The only thing that happened here is that a community that was going to be profoundly affected by their presence started asking questions.’

“Even by their own words,’’ he added, pointing to the company’s statement on the pullout, “Amazon admits they will grow their presenc
Tom Ichniowski
Proposal lacks details on funding, revenue-raisers

A group of congressional Democrats have issued an outline for an ambitious “Green New Deal,” a plan that aims to slow or reverse climate change by a variety of steps, including revamping energy generation, fortifying infrastructure against storms and renovating energy-inefficient buildings.

Odds that the Green New Deal proposal will become law appear long. But, depending on how much support it eventually generates, the plan may help shape the contours of any major infrastructure legislation this year and also push climate change up the list of priority issues for the 2020 elections.

The blueprint, set down in a proposed resolution introduced in the House and Senate on Feb. 7, has the tenor of a call to political arms. And by design, its authors say, doesn’t specify how much funding it would require—though the price tag would undoubtedly be immense—or identify revenue-raisers to pay for that spending. It does set a timetable, saying that the program should be carried out through "a 10-year national mobilization."

Its prime mover in the House, high-profile, first-year Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), said at a Feb. 7 press conference outside the U.S. Capitol that the resolution is an initial action. “Our first step,” she said,” is to define the problem and define the scope of the solution.”

The House version has more than 60 initial co-sponsors with additional backers ready to sign on, Ocasio-Cortez said. That’s far short of a majority but it is still early in the process.

The Senate version, introduced by Ed Markey (D-Mass.), has 11 co-sponsors as of Day One. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) isn’t among them.

But the list does include all of the senators who, to date, have declared themselves as presidential candidates for 2020. That would support Markey’s comment at the press conference that dealing with climate change is “a voting issue” in the U.S. and will be a prime topic in the 2020 election cycle.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters at a briefing earlier in the day that she welcomed the proposal, though she hadn’t yet read the resolution. Pelosi also said that as Congress pursues infrastructure legislation, one of her stated goals, “we want to do so in a green, informed way.”

But it was a less-than-wholehearted endorsement. She called the Green New Deal “enthusiastic,” adding that “we welcome all the enthusiasm