A ProSales survey found 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.

Results from an online poll of more than 200 dealers nationwide found roughly a quarter of the respondents in the Northeast and North Central states said there was a union at their places 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 Mountains westward said they have a union.

In most cases, the union members are drivers and yard crews, along with a smattering of warehouse personnel, carpenters, and millshop people; virtually all of the unions 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 jobsites 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 representation; a secret ballot of employees no longer would be required.

The ProSales survey, done in November, had 247 respondents, 207 of whom identified themselves as working at lumberyards, molding or millwork shops, and short-line specialty companies. The results reflect only those of the 207.