Customer Demand for Unionized Printing Companies Still Remains Strong
“There’s been a lot of changes in the last 10 years. The open (non-union) shop has closed the gap, but I think union printers still have a better offering for the employee. And no matter which political party you talk to, politicians have put the kibosh on unions; it seems they’re not carrying the union torch like they used to. Maybe some old-school politicians still do, but I guess it’s just a sign of the times.”
The Contraction Factor
The shrinking union printer tracks the shrinking commercial printer in this country. RR Donnelley’s 2013 acquisition of Consolidated Graphics and Quad/Graphics’ megadeal that landed World Color in 2010 are prime examples of industry and union contraction.
Jim Kyger, assistant vice president of human resources for Printing Industries of America, says about 5 percent of printing industry employers have some or all production employees represented by a labor union. The Graphic Communications Conference of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (GCC/IBT) is the primary union in the printing industry, with a reported active membership of 33,263. The Communications Workers of America (CWA) represents less than 1 percent of industry employees.
One of the greatest challenges facing union shops is their participation in multi-employer pension plans, according to Kyger. These plans are defined as critical by the Pension Protection Act of 2006, which means the plan is 65 percent funded or less. When a plan is underfunded, the participating employer has to footnote their company’s withdraw liability on its balance sheet. Any firm that exits the plan must pay the withdraw liability.
Despite the challenges facing union shops, there are ample success stories. One of those belongs to Inland Press, a commercial shop based in downtown Detroit. Company President Brad Thompson says the ability to print the union bug has led to numerous opportunities, including a few niche markets. Two keys have helped sustain Inland’s competitiveness: it exited the union pension plan about 10 years ago, and its wage scale is comparable to open (non-union) shops.