A Labor Day Tribute to Mark Ayers


By Joe Blodgett, Founder of TRICON and regular contributor to The Labor Paper

For more than thirty years, I have been a strong advocate for labor-management cooperation in the construction industry, and have spent the better part of my working career in an effort to bring labor and management together in a cooperative and trusting relationship, seeking new ways through these programs to increase market share for our signatory contractors, while at the same time, providing top of the line construction.

Over the years, I have come to the firm belief that the future of union construction will rely in great measure, not only on our contractors and unions working together in harmony, but also by including construction users in our cooperative programs. This belief has been strengthened in recent years by the relentless attacks on unions in various states such as Iowa, Wisconsin and Indiana.

At times, I felt like a voice in the wilderness, but that all changed with the death of Mark Ayers, when I first learned of his leadership role as President of the Building and Construction Trades Department of the AFL-CIO. Furthermore, I discovered that not only had Mark been in a position to promote new cooperative relationships among construction unions, signatory contractors and construction users, he actually had been doing it! What a bittersweet revelation!

Perhaps you are familiar with Robert Fulgum, whose book All I Really Need To Know I learned In Kindergarten was a best seller in the mid-1980s. I have six of his books, the last of which is entitled Words I Wish I Wrote, published in 1997 in which Fulgum quotes professor James P. Carse, a winner of the New York University (NYU) Great Teacher Award, from his book, Finite and Infinite Games.”

In part, here is what Carse said:“There are at least two kinds of games. One could be called finite, the other infinite. A finite game is played for the purpose of winning, an infinite game for the purpose of continuing the play… Finite players play within boundaries; infinite players play with boundaries.” And finally, “Only that which can change can continue: this is the principle by which infinite players live.”

So, what’s the point? Mark Ayers was truly an “infinite player.”

Rather than pursuing the out-dated win-lose situation which for so many years dominated the relationship among the unions, signatory contractors and construction users, he chose to develop win-win relationships among them, through seeking mutual agreement and trust, thus “continuing the play.”

Rather than operating within out-dated boundaries established over many years of distrust and conflict, he chose to seek new avenues in which to reach tri-partite agreement on how to recover market share and re-establish the leadership position that union construction had enjoyed in the past, thus “playing with the boundaries.”

As Mark noted in an article written for the Winter 2008 edition of The Construction User, a publication of The Association of Union Contractors, “Our boundaries are unlimited if we – unions, contractors and owners, alike – learn and practice the discipline of teamwork, and place trust and respect at the center of our relationships.”

And finally, Mark understood that without change – change that proves mutually beneficial to, and is accepted by, the parties involved – there can be no moving forward in our quest to show the world that union construction really is The Construction Advantage. Again, from The Construction user, “If we are to survive, prosper and be competitive together, then it only makes sense that all of us must be working on the same team, trying to move the ball in the same direction, down the same field, focused on the same goal.”

Mark Ayers began a new chapter in labor-management cooperation with a new vision and a new set of goals and objectives.He has demonstrated to the union sector of the construction industry, as well as the construction users, that there is another way – a way that is responsive to the needs of the construction industry as a whole, while at the same time, demonstrating by our actions to our communities and the people who live in them, that union construction’s dedication to pride, performance and professionalism is not only the best way to build, it is the only way to build.

On the wall of my “office” at home, hangs a framed nineteen-by-twenty-six-inch photo reproduction of one of our space shuttles blasting off into outer space, accompanied by the words: “Only as far as we seek can we go..: Only as much as we dream can we be..”I believe these words epitomize the life of Mark Ayers – as a seeker for a better life for working people and their families, and a dreamer whose vision of the future was very bright for organized labor and our signatory contractors..As a person who has served both labor and management in the construction industry, I will miss him, as I know you will too.

In the meantime, please keep in mind that nobody builds better than a Better Built contractor. Our signatory contractors build on proven construction industry practices, and the strong foundation of the skills, productivity and safe-work practices of our union craftsmen and women. Working together, with a mutual focus on performance, pride and professionalism, we are, indeed, The Construction Advantage.

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