A new ProSales survey finds huge differences between North and South with regard to unions' penetration of LBM dealers but near-nationwide concern that labor's influence at lumberyards will increase.

According to results from the online poll of more than 200 dealers nationwide, roughly a quarter of the respondents in the Northeast and North Central states said there was a union at their place of work while only 1.4% of the dealer respondents in Southern states said the same. Meanwhile, 14% of dealers in states from the Rocky Mountain westward said they had a union.

In most cases, the union members were drivers and yard crews, along with a smattering of warehouse personnel, carpenters, and mill shop people. Virtually all of them have been around for many years; only 6.8% of dealers said there had been any attempt by a union to organize workers at their job site since 2005, and in only one case nationwide did the organizing attempt succeed.

Dealers and LBM associations fear that could change with the arrival of Barack Obama in the White House and more Democrats in Congress. The labor movement is pushing the government to pass the Employee Free Choice Act, which among other things would let employees form unions simply by signing cards authorizing union representation; a secret ballot of employees no longer would be required.

Unions say that a card-signing system would take away the possibility that employers would intimidate workers. Business leaders say that labor's goal of eliminating the secret ballot takes away a fundamental American right.

Many survey respondents made clear they wouldn't welcome union organizers at their yard. "There will not be a union in our stores. We will sell or lock the door first.," said one dealer. Several blamed unions for ruining other industries.

On the other hand, a few dealers noted that employees had voted to decertify some unions in recent years, and others suggested unions weren't always tigers.

"The union has been fairly easy to work with through the years (55)," a dealer said. "We expect to renegotiate our union wage contract this year with no increases in wages or other benefits."

"Fortunately, no issues yet," another dealer wrote. "We might even close up if had to deal with a union. Not worth dealing with an entity that is probably run by criminals of one type or another."

ProSales conducted the survey in November. A total of 247 people responded, 207 of whom identified themselves as working at lumberyards, molding/millwork shops and short line specialty companies. The results above reflect only those of the 207.

Click here for results of other ProSales surveys.