Engineering News


Online Database Reveals Top Pay



By Sherie Winston and Leah Hitchings




Presidents of the 15 construction trades unions may not be earning the same salaries as corporate executives. But they still enjoy many perks that add a sizable amount to their compensation packages, as revealed by a new U.S. Labor Dept. electronic posting of long-required union financial details.


The department last month began posting on its Website,, the most recent labor-management forms–known as LMs–that each union has been required by law to file since 1959. The most recent internal reports, which cover either 2000 or 2001 depending on the union's fiscal year, show salaries, investments, net assets and an array of other financial details. The reports have always been publicly available, but it was a time-intensive process to search through paper files. The curious also had to pay a fee to copy the documents. The goal is to make the information more readily available to union members, journalists and the public, says department spokeswoman Sue Hensley.


WELL PAID? Michael Ketner, president of Michael Ketner and Associates Inc., a construction compensation consulting firm in Pittsburgh, says union president salaries "are a fraction" of what construction company executives earn. A construction company executive presiding over a staff of 10,000 employees would be likely to earn between $400,000 and $700,000, he claims.


The highest compensation total listed for a building trades' president in the Labor Dept. database‚ including allowances and disbursements for official and unofficial business, was $374,400 in 2000 for Michael Sullivan, president of the sheet metal workers' union. "My sense is that these union presidents have got a bunch of outside-the-umbrella perks" that are tax free, adds Ketner. "They could be getting allowances for housing. They may get free air travel for personal use. Under these circumstances, you'd gladly settle for a meager wage," he says.


Several of the union leaders' overall compensation jumps significantly when allowances, disbursements and "other" expenses are factored in. For 2000, Terence M. O'Sullivan, general president of the laborers' union, earned an annual salary of $250,000, ranking him at the top of the 15 trades. But when other perks are added, the sheet metal workers' Sullivan takes the lead despite his base salary of $236,605. O'Sullivan slips to second overall with a total package of $357,710.


Roofers' union President Earl Kruse is at the bottom of the salary pool with annual wages of $142,721. But with allowances and disbursements, his compensation package jumps to eighth in the ranking, totaling $245,718.


The president of the AFL-CIO's Building and Construction Trades Dept., Edward C. Sullivan, earns a salary of $248,762. His allowances total $18,250 and disbursements for official business are $45,386, for a total of $312,398. Sullivan's successor as head of the elevator constructors' union takes home $182,290 in salary and $29,069 for disbursements for official business, for a total compensation of $211,359.


Each of the presidents receives additional allowances for his service as a BCTD "vice president." For the year ending June 30, 2001, those amounts range from $10,100 for former ironworkers' President Jake West and operating engineers' union chief Frank Hanley, to $3,500 to Michael Monroe, former president of the painters' union.


The Labor Dept. says that allowances are made by direct or indirect disbursements and are not based on miles or meals. Allowances are general payments that are recurring on a calendar basis, says Kay Oshel, chief of the division of Interpretation and Standards in the department's Office of Labor Management Standards. "Allowances are for a specific purpose in advance," she explains. "They are not a reimbursement." In some cases, allowances can include housing expenses.


Official disbursements, according to Oshel, are items that are necessary to conduct official business of the organization. But "other disbursements" are for the union executive's personal benefit, not necessarily for official business. "The report is meant to be a complete picture of all funds of the union," says Oshel.


Richard Greer, a spokesman for the laborers' union, disputes that view. Because the LM forms do not include income and expenses, they do not provide a "true picture of a financial situation," he says. More precise details about the financial health of a union would be included in the auditor's report, he contends.


Former laborers' union President Arthur Coia continues to receive a salary, which in 2000 was $84,809. When he resigned from the union in 1999, the executive board voted to supplement his pension annually to reach the $250,000 salary that he was earning at the time of his retirement.


The ironworkers' union paid legal expenses totaling $1.7 million for West and another employee from July 1, 2000, to June 30, 2001. West was indicted in August 2001 on embezzlement charges. The union also paid for his move to California.

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