As they push for more infrastructure spending, some unions also are flexing their financial muscle to make a direct connection between union jobs and where $500 billion in union pension assets are being invested.
"We are making sure all of our resources are utilized to support our mission, not to undermine it," said Sean McGarvey, North America's Building Trades Unions president, at a Washington legislative conference in mid-April. "We are getting smarter and taking control of our own destiny. If we recognize the value and power of our retirement funds ... we can drive job creation today and for generations to come."
All 14 building trades unions will insist that their pension funds are invested in a fiduciary manner that also provides work opportunities for members, Mr. McGarvey said.
Tying the investment of union pension assets to union jobs has long been the point of union-affiliated asset managers like Ullico Inc. and the AFL-CIO's Housing Investment Trust. Officials at the Laborers' International Union of North America, Washington, took that a step further in 2004, launching a capital strategies program that maps their $50 billion in pension assets to where they are invested and whether union jobs benefit.
In case any money managers or investment consultants weren't paying attention, the building trades at the conference released their second annual consultant report card, rating managers on information "that trustees and all members should find useful," Mr. McGarvey told attendees. "We will no longer be taken for granted, and those that are hired to assist us will know they work for us, not the other way around."
The report card is based on a 29-question survey that details investment performance, fees (including what the manager is doing to lower them) and conflicts of interest. On the subject of job creation, consultants were asked to spell out how much they track and promote responsible contractor policies that wind up giving preference to union labor among infrastructure and real estate managers.
Another tool is having money managers sign those responsible contractor policies that promote fair benefits and wages, working conditions and training opportunities in projects financed with money from private equity and infrastructure investments. That includes giving union contractors advance notice of project bid requests, protecting not only jobs but the investments by ensuring "we are competing on who can perform the best, not necessarily who can cost the least," Mr. McGarvey said.