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Association Bisnow
July 30, 2008



We’ve met few association CEOs who define their policy mission as succinctly as Kirk Pickerel, head of the 25,000-member Associated Builders and Contractors, who says simply: “We’re for free enterprise.” (Well, maybe the US Chamber’s Tom Donohue.)  Kirk talks about his members’ free-market ideals with an almost religious zeal, which is only appropriate—before entering the trade association world, he was a Baptist minister.


That was 25 years ago, when Kirk left the pulpit to become membership director of ABC’s Virginia chapter. After stints as President of a Pennsylvania chapter (ABC has 78 chapters) and VP of member services at the national headquarters in Arlington, in 2000 Kirk became the first CEO of ABC to come out of its local chapter network. Previous CEOs had come from industry and politics, and Kirk says it was a “smart move” for ABC to look inside for its leader. He’s not being prideful; he notes that most ABC activities, like training programs for small- and medium-sized contractors, happen at the local level, so it’s helpful to have the local chapter background. ABC now has a $27 million budget, and membership growth 15 of the last 16 years.


The national organization is where the policy work gets done, through its PAC (over $2 million for the 2008 election cycle), a government affairs staff of 23, and an active legal foundation to which 8 percent of dues are devoted. So what does it mean to preserve the “free-enterprise” system in the construction industry? For one, ABC is part of the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace, which Kirk says is attempting to secure workers’ right to a secret ballot when voting on union organizing. ABC was also behind a big legal victory before the NLRB in a case finally resolved last year (the long-running matter included a 2002 Supreme Court decision). As Kirk explains it, the case reversed a previous rule that whenever a construction company sued a labor organization and lost, the unsuccessful suit was automatically considered an unfair labor practice and required payment of the union’s attorney fees.


As head of ABC, Kirk is also the publisher of Construction Executive magazine. He’s managed to get out of the office enough to visit 49 of the 50 states (we assume North Dakota is on his bucket list), where he can see the handiwork of members like Donahue Favret Contractors, which rebuilt a Hurricane Katrina-damaged church in just 100 hours for Extreme Home Makeover, or M.A. Mortenson Company, which built an expansion at the Denver Art Museum. Kirk’s also a big hiker who has gone trekking through Borneo—where, as far as we know, he didn’t find a single member building.

Arent Fox
Cardinal Bank
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