The Way We Build

Restoring Dignity to Construction Work
Author: Mark Erlich
The past, present, and future of construction work
Cloth – $110
Paper – $22.95
eBook – $14.95
Publication Date
Paperback: 07/18/2023
Cloth: 07/18/2023
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About the Book

The construction trades once provided unionized craftsmen a route to the middle class and a sense of pride and dignity often denied other blue-collar workers. Today, union members still earn wages and benefits that compare favorably to those of college graduates. But as union strength has declined over the last fifty years, a growing non-union sector offers lower compensation and more hazardous conditions, undermining the earlier tradition of upward mobility. Revitalization of the industry depends on unions shedding past racial and gender discriminatory practices; embracing organizing, diversity, and the new immigrant workforce; and preparing for technological changes.

Mark Erlich blends long-view history with his personal experience inside the building trades to explain one of our economy’s least-understood sectors. Erlich’s multifaceted account includes the dynamics of the industry, the backdrop of union policies, and powerful stories of everyday life inside the trades. He offers a much-needed overview of construction’s past and present while exploring roads to the future.

About the Author

Mark Erlich is the Wertheim Fellow at The Center for Labor and a Just Economy at Harvard Law School and the retired Executive Secretary Treasurer of the New England Regional Council of Carpenters. His books include Labor at the Ballot Box: The Massachusetts Prevailing Wage Campaign of 1988 and With Our Hands: The Story of Carpenters in Massachusetts.


"Whether you are like me and have been along for the entire 50-year ride, or you're relatively new in the industry, you should read the newly published University of Illinois Press book, The Way We Build: Restoring Dignity to Construction Work." --Tom Finan, Construction Forum

"Remaining realistic about the limitations and exclusionary practices that tinged the old days of union dominance, Erlich insists on a new, more inclusive model of organizing that also bolsters the profession as a means towards financial stability for women and people of color." --Architectural Record


“I have known Mark Erlich to be one of the most creative and innovative leaders in the building trades. The Way We Build reflects Erlich’s deep personal understanding of construction work as well as his ability to analyze the past and offer solutions for the future. Anyone who is interested in the dynamics of one of our major industries will benefit greatly from reading this book.”--Marty Walsh, former Secretary of Labor

“Having been a carpenter, dynamic union leader, and observer and writer of labor history, Mark Erlich's experience provides unique and incisive perspective on the challenges facing workers, management, and government in the construction industry. This book is required reading for anyone who cares about the future of construction and the wider community dependent on it.”--David Weil, Professor, Heller School, Brandeis University, and former Administrator, US Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division in the Obama administration

“A fascinating and incisive analysis of construction. The author’s extensive experience as a carpenter, superintendent, and union leader gives him an intimate knowledge of the industry. He shows how unions transform tough construction jobs into rewarding middle-class careers. A must-read for industry practitioners, trade unionists, and ‘future of work’ enthusiasts.”--Jeff Grabelsky, The Worker Institute at Cornell ILR School