A Publication of WTVP

I am too young to remember (many of you would contend) the turbulent ‘80s economy in central Illinois, when construction work was down and Caterpillar and UAW friction was a staple on the local news. Yes, my thoughts in the mid-‘80s were largely focused on which pair of jeans to wear to the dance, how much homework I had to get done, and what I wanted to do after high school. I was mostly safe from responsibility, but I do remember my parents worrying about the cost of college, and I remember them and others around me worrying about the tough working climate, especially between labor and management—and if the Peoria area would survive the turbulence.

Survive, we did. It’s amazing how things can evolve and change in response to need. For the local union construction industry, change was good. In the mid-‘80s, leaders in the local union construction industry got together to figure out how to improve relations between labor (skilled building trades) and management (contractors) in the industry. Thankfully, these leaders had the foresight to address growing conflict in the industry head-on, before it got out of control and jeopardized the very existence of union construction.

At TRICON, every day is different, interesting and can certainly be challenging, but the greatest moments come when someone in our industry benefits from the work of TRICON and labor-management working together.

One of my proudest moments came when a former student of TRICON-coordinated workforce development programs stood before Illinois congressional leaders in Springfield and told them how he came from a rough childhood in urban Peoria, discovered construction through several of our programs, and was now completing his apprenticeship program. He said, “This program saved my life.” That’s what work should be about—providing others with opportunities to succeed, whether through new skills, products or care. And that’s what we do at TRICON.

These leaders began with a simple task: building relationships. By simply building relationships between labor and management, they knew that when issues came up or when it came time for contract negotiations, things would go more smoothly, and they could come up with joint solutions to common concerns. That simple task—building relationships—became the foundation for the Tri-County Construction Labor-Management Council (TRICON).

Today, like it did when it was formed in 1984, TRICON brings together labor and management in union construction to strengthen the entire industry. Membership over the past 25 years has included the 6,000 building trades workers in 15 trades unions and the 300-plus union contractors who employ them in Peoria, Tazewell and Woodford counties. Supporting and working with TRICON are the West Central Illinois Building and Construction Trades Council, Greater Peoria Contractors and Suppliers Association, the Builders Association of Tazewell County and other industry associations. While its main focus continues to be fostering good labor-management cooperation and building relationships, TRICON has expanded to address common concerns and create programs and activities that are mutually beneficial to the skilled trades and contractors. Award-winning programs focus on workforce development, public relations/community involvement, business development, safety, and more recently, green building.

Peoria Area Labor-Management Council

IT IS WORTH NOTING that about the same time TRICON was forming, the Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce brought together a volunteer committee of labor and management leaders from various industries and sectors. This group eventually formed the Peoria Area Labor-Management Council (PALM) in 1985. PALM’s mission was to foster good labor-management cooperation that would, in turn, strengthen the local economy. Over the years, PALM members, including large and small manufacturers, service industries, public sector entities, and construction, kept the message of cooperation at the forefront. They took labor-management cooperation to heart and even back into their own respective organizations, many of whom have successful internal labor-management committees today. PALM continues to foster cooperation in the business community by bringing together local leaders and offering collaboration training. It, too, has expanded over the years to put focus on issues that affect both labor and management, like healthcare and workforce development, and works closely with TRICON on those efforts.

The mission of TRICON—strengthening the union construction industry through cooperation—helps ensure that union construction projects are built with quality, on time and within budget, something that not only keeps the industry vibrant and successful, but also supports the local economy. Good projects help business owners and homeowners. They provide good wages for skilled trades workers and contractors, who can then purchase goods and services from local businesses. It’s a win-win when labor and management work together to give clients the best construction experience possible. This is the premise of TRICON’s Better Built Network (, which brings the industry together with others who support the industry in one portal. Customers can be assured a quality project with Better Built members.

The future of the construction industry relies heavily upon its ability to recruit and train qualified and skilled future workers. From early on, TRICON members knew they had to address this important issue, and they knew they needed educators as partners in this task. TRICON’s long-standing, successful partnerships with Peoria Educational Region for Employment and Career Training (PERFECT) and Tazewell County/Area Education for Employment are proof that collaboration leads to innovation. For the last 12 years, these partnerships have produced a number of award-winning workforce development programs that introduce K-12 students to construction industry careers using fun, hands-on, and even competency-based activities.

Labor-management cooperation and the Better Built Network helped bring Home Performance with ENERGY STAR to central Illinois in 2005. TRICON worked with the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO), Bureau of Energy & Recycling to pilot this national program in Illinois. The program features a whole-house approach to home energy efficiency—encouraging homeowners to make their homes safer, more comfortable and energy-efficient ( Green building programs have expanded to include training and certification, an energy appraisal program in partnership with the Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce, and partnerships with numerous organizations to bring additional green training and incentives for green building to central Illinois.

I’m especially proud of the cooperative spirit that remains in this area. Many businesses and industries step up to provide community service and get involved in charitable events. Union construction contractors and skilled trades give back to this community in immeasurable ways, through participation in community organizations and gifts of time, materials, money and labor to local charities.

It’s through labor-management cooperation that contractors and labor build stronger relationships, produce superior products, create and maintain a qualified workforce, develop innovative ideas, give back to the community, and help improve the economy in central Illinois. That’s a long way from the turbulent image of the Peoria area left in my mind from my high school days. Rather, it’s another reason to celebrate central Illinois as a great place to live and work. iBi