NYC union contractors succeed in wrecking
the Carpenters Union's job referral system
After two years of effort, the Association of Wall Ceiling and Carpentry Industries of Greater New York has finally succeeded in gutting the NYC District Council of Carpenters' Out of Work List job referral system.
On August 22, 2012, the delegate body of the District Council voted to grant the bosses the right of "Full Mobility" - that is, other than having a union-appointed shop steward on most jobs, they could use a workforce entirely selected by the employer, without having to hire anybody from the union Out of Work List unless they want to.
Full Mobility was passed by the delegates by a 60-23 margin. This was despite the fact that it was overwhelmingly rejected by the members, two to one, in a referendum vote back in March 2012.
Wall Ceiling ignored that landslide mandate and resubmitted the Full Mobility proposal - with a huge 17% pay and benefit increase over the next 5 years to sweeten the pot.
This abolishes the half century old system where 50% of the crew on every union carpentry job was referred by the union - a system that has been under attack by carpentry contractors for the past 25 years.
Wall Ceiling is the largest carpenter employers association in the city, representing the drywall & ceilings contractors that employ about half the carpenters in the union, but they are not the only employers association.
Other associations, in particular the Building Contractors Association (general contractors), the Cement League (the hirise concrete contractors) and the Floor Coverers Association, asked for Full Mobility (and did not get it because they lost the referendum).
The Hoisting Trade Association, (scaffolding contractors), actually got Full Mobility because a majority of the relatively small number of scaffolders in that specialty trade voted for it. The Manufacturing Woodworkers Association (contractors who fabricate and install architectural woodwork) also already had Full Mobility in its contract for its shop and outside installation workers.
Now that Wall Ceiling has joined the Hoisting Trade Association and the Manufacturing Woodworkers in having Full Mobility, it's very likely that BCA, the Cement League and the Floor Coverers will also ask for it to, and almost certainly get it.
If they get it, it wouldn't be surprising if everybody else got in the mix; the Associated General Contractors (heavy and highway contractors), Contractors Association of Greater NY (another general contractors group, representing the biggest GCs in the city), Architectural Metal and Storefront, the Millwrights Association (machinery installation contractors), and the NY Trade Show Contractors Association all might ask for, and get, the same deal that Wall Ceiling, the Hoisting Trade Association and the Manufacturing Woodworkers received.
The Manufacturing Woodworkers Association has already imposed other deep concessions on its carpenters as well. MWA shops unilaterally cut the benefit fund payments for all of their carpenters by 70% and demanded that the District Council pay them back $ 55 million in fund payments over the past 3 years.
This is thanks to an arbitrator's award that, due to the fact that the District Council signed a low wage contract with Gilbert Displays, a trade show exhibit building firm, back in 2009, all of the union woodwork contractors in the MWA are entitled to those concessions too.
That case is currently in litigation.
The "local men" (the two thirds of New York union carpenters who primarily get work from the Out of Work List, as opposed to the "company men" who mainly work for a particular firm) also face a change in the job referral system that many of them feel, correctly, as an attack.
The old system, which enabled a carpenter who had reached the top of the Out of Work List to get 25 days of work before going to the bottom of the list, was unilaterally replaced on August 13th with the "three dispatch rule".
Under the new rule, when a carpenter reaches the top of the list, he/she only gets three dispatches before going to the bottom.
For a sheetrocker or a concrete carpenter, whose jobs tend to last a relatively long time, three dispatches can equal three months of work. For a carpet layer, furniture installer or trade show carpenter, whose jobs tend to be short term, three dispatches can mean three days of work.
Obviously, carpenters in the latter category are outraged at this new system. Most local men see both Full Mobility and the Three Dispatch Rule as an attack on them and their way of life, and even as an attempt to drive them out of the industry and replace them with carpenters handpicked by the contractors.
This is a view especially widely held by carpenters in their 40s and 50s, who, with considerable justification, fear that they would be denied work and replaced by younger carpenters who can work faster.
Considering the fact that drywall and ceiling installation, the fields that Wall Ceiling contractors work in, tend to be "asses and elbows" types of carpentry where the priority is to work as fast as possible, there is every reason to think that Full Mobility would be used to weed out older carpenters and replace them with younger workers.
Also, considering our industry's long history of race and sex discrimination, there's every reason to think that Full Mobility would be used to discriminate against women, African Americans and Latinos.
Also, historically, many contractors have avoided hiring 4th year apprentices. They make almost as much as journeypeople but aren't as skilled, nor are they as cheap to hire as apprentices, so historically many 4th years have spent much of their last year of apprenticeship out of work. It's reasonable to assume that Full Mobility would make things worse for them.
This industry also has a longstanding tradition of nepotism in hiring, which will only get worse in an environment where contractors can hire who they want. It would be easy for bosses to bring in relatives instead of hiring current union members (all the relatives would have to do is join the union within 7 days of hire).
Even company men have their own objection to Full Mobility - if they have a falling out with a company, or if their company goes out of business, they no longer have the option of going to the Out of Work List to find another job.
Full Mobility also makes it more likely that carpenters will overlook contract violations at work to keep a steady job. This will make it harder for shop stewards - the only local men under the new system - to do their jobs, because fewer workers will be willing to go on record reporting contract violations, lest they get fired.
Full Mobility and the Three Dispatch Rule aren't the only giveback that the District Council delegates have inflicted on New York Carpenters recently.
At the same meeting that enacted Full Mobility, the delegates also gave a 10% pay cut to Stephen Ross' Related Companies and Blake Hutcheson's Oxford Properties for their massive Hudson Yards project that is starting up later this year.
That $ 15 billion dollar development, due to be carried out over the next 10 years, includes 26 million square feet of office space and 20,000 units of housing, 75% of which would be luxury units.
Neither one of these guys is anywhere near broke - Ross is a billionaire who owns the Time Warner Center and other marquee properties around Manhattan and Hutcheson is one of the biggest real estate developers in Canada.
Nor do they have any kind of serious plans to go scab (the only legitimate justification for any kind of special low wage deal), since there is no way they could build a development of this size in this market area with non union contractors.
They just demanded the giveback, from the Carpenters and the other trades, because they perceive the unions as weak.
Maybe they're right about that.
Gary La Barbera and Paul Fernandes, the two top leaders of the NYC Building and Construction Trades Council, have been aggressively pushing for every building trades union in New York to make deep concessions on the Hudson Yards job, despite the fact that Ross and Hutcheson do not have any financial need for those wage and benefit cuts.
Fernandes compared the givebacks to Costco charging less for groceries if you buy in volume.
Apparently New York union construction workers are a discounted commodity now, like ramen noodles or boxes of Tide, to be sold cheap to the lowest irresponsible bidder.
In that climate, with only the Operating Engineers holding on to full union scale for their crane operators, it would have been hard for the Carpenters to fight back on our own.
Nationally, New York is the last of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters 36 regional/district councils to grant Full Mobility to their signatory contractors, giving them the same total control of the hiring of their workforce that the non union contractors have.
This major concession was originally intended as an incentive for non union contractors to go union when it was introduced in the Southwestern Regional Council of Carpenters 20 years ago.
Full Mobility came in the wake of a large and very successful strike by 4,000 Mexican immigrant carpenters in the residential drywall market segment in Southern California in 1992.
In a bid to organize other residential contractors, the union offered to let them continue using common non union labor practices like having low paid helpers (renamed 'pre apprentices' and 'helper/scrappers' in the contract the Carpenters signed with these firms) working on their jobsites doing low skilled carpentry tasks and by allowing the contractor total control of who he/she chose to have working for his/her company and giving them the right to take that same crew from job to job.
The non union contractors would keep the benefit of having total control of the composition of their workforce but would gain the right to use the union's hiring hall system when they needed extra labor for their jobs, instead of relying on getting workers from the Jefes ("chiefs" - labor brokers/leadmen who furnish contractors with often brutally underpaid immigrant day labor).
The then head of the Southwestern Council, Douglas McCarron, subsequently became General President of the UBC (his brother Mike still runs the Southwestern Council) and introduced Full Mobility union-wide, using the same argument.
In the subsequent years, every other council in the Carpenters Union besides New York City has adopted Full Mobility and no longer requires union contractors to hire part of their labor force from the union, except for shop stewards in some cases.
In some councils, like the Southwestern Council, once a carpenter has worked a three day probationary period, he/she is considered a full time employee, with all the rights that would normally go with a full time job, including the right to only be discharged for good cause or in an economic layoff.
In other councils, including the Metropolitan Philadelphia, Northeastern and New England councils that immediately border the New York District Council, carpenters under Full Mobility are casual workers, subject to discharge at any time by the contractor, for any lawful reason and with no right to file a grievance if they were not fired for good cause.
The employer justification for demanding an end to mandatory hiring from the hall is that if the contractor can pick his/her own crew, and take the same carpenters from job to job doing the same type of carpentry, they will be more productive than hiring half the crew from the union, workers who do different types of carpentry for different employers and aren't going to be as efficient as those carpenters who do the same work for the same outfit all the time.
There actually is some truth to that - it's actually a good argument for demanding steady jobs for all carpenters with some sort of job security and seniority system, and some sort of rotation system so we all get a chance to work.
There's also a darker side to Full Mobility. Workers who are dependent on a contractor for steady work (and who, like all union carpenters in New York, can get fired at any time for any reason at all) are less likely to report contract violations.
That was a huge problem back in the 2000s when an earlier variant of Full Mobility, called the Request System, let employers here pick and choose who they would and wouldn't hire. Certain contractors, in particular firms in office furniture installation, venetian blinds, drywall & ceilings and hirise concrete, abused the Request System to get some of their company men to work for less than union scale (a practice that came to be known as "working for cash")
Supposedly, the federal monitors who have been overseeing our union since 1993 will take measures to prevent that this time. There is talk of having shop stewards call or email in the hours worked on their jobs on a daily basis rather than having them bring in shop steward sheets on a weekly basis. This, supposedly, will prevent fraud.
Then again, the same federal monitors were in place when the Request System was being abused by the contractors - in particular, the drywall & ceiling contractors in Wall Ceiling (the former head of Wall Ceiling, reputed Genovese crime family soldier Joseph Olivieri, is now in prison due to to that fraud).
These attacks on union carpenters are part of a broader offensive aimed at union construction workers in this city that has been going on for the past 3 years.
The attack is lead by the Building Trades Employers Association, the group that has represented union contractors in New York City since the 1890s, and also includes the NY Building Congress and the Realty Advisory Board on Labor Relations (both of which represent the developers), the Center for Urban Real Estate at Columbia University (a nominally liberal institution which is a major player in Upper Manhattan real estate development), the Regional Plan Association (a liberal think tank funded by the Rockefeller Foundation), the Manhattan Institute (a far right anti union think tank funded by the Koch Brothers) and the NYC Association for Affordable Housing (a lobbying group for the low wage non union developers who build city and state subsidized housing in the city).
Liberals and Conservatives, Republicans and Democrats, Corporate America, academia and the Not for Profit Community Based Organizations, all united in a common goal to force middle income building trades workers to pay for the real estate industry's money problems out of our own pockets.
Call it a "Coalition of the Greedy".
The plan is to weaken New York City's construction unions, take away the employment rights and workrules those unions have won for building tradespeople over the past 140 years and push us as far as possible down to the wage, benefit and work rule levels of tradespeople in the non union segment of the industry.
Since some non union construction workers in this city make as little as $ 7/hr off the books (this is especially true of the workers on city financed projects run by members of the NYS Association for Affordable Housing), this group intends to push us down really far.
This is occurring in a climate where the majority of the construction work in the city is done by non union contractors - not only in home improvement and other traditionally non union market segments, but in hirise apartment house construction and hotel construction, which were once nearly 100% union but are now largely low wage non union markets.
The "Coalition of the Greedy" have already started trotting out the same kind of arguments that were used to demand pay cuts from union autoworkers at GM, Ford and Chrysler back in 2007 and have been used against civil service workers across the country since then.
The representatives of the billionaires claim that middle income union construction workers are "overpaid", our benefits and pensions are "excessive", as our the work rules that protect our lives and bodies on the job.
We should be reduced to the same standard of poverty-line wages, no benefits and no safety on the job faced by the sub minimum wage non union workers.
No mention is made of who will benefit from the excess profits to be wrung out of us when our pay and benefits are cut (hint - the billionaires paying for this "Coalition of the Greedy" are the ones who's pockets will be lined by our poverty)
By and large, the NYC Building and Construction Trades Council and its 17 affiliates have responded to this systematic organized attack with remarkable passivity and timidity.
Initially, the Building and Construction Trades Council wanted its affiliates to roll over and totally give in to the demands of the contractors, to "help them compete with the non union".
Once that proved politically impossible because these givebacks were wildly unpopular among the 100,000 unionized construction workers in the city, the Building and Construction Trades Council did offer some timid and half hearted resistance.
Be that as it may, there has been no organized trade-wide resistance to these attacks. Unions have by and large tried to cut their own deals, with whatever concessions they can get their members to not actively revolt against. Other than a few unofficial protests led by rank and file union workers and a brief strike by the Cement Workers at Ground Zero in August 2011, there has been no real resistance to these coordinated attacks.
There has also been absolutely no attempt to unite with other unionized workers in the real estate industry, such as the 30,000 members of the Hotel and Motel Trades Council or the 50,000 workers in Service Employees International Union local 32bj.
Nor has there been an attempt to link up with other unions whose members' living standards are under attack - like the Communications Workers of America at Verizon and AT&T or the Utility Workers Union at Consolidated Edison.
Nor has there been any serious effort to work with the Teamsters, the workers who deliver everything we install to the jobsites - and who also deliver everything the non union folks install on the scab jobs.
The irony is, the head of the NYC Building and Construction Trades Council, Gary La Barbara, is the very same dude who runs Teamsters local 282, the construction drivers union!
If the head of the building trades can't (or, more likely, won't) mobilize the members in his own local union to fight, then we're in bad shape!
Needless to say, there's also been no attempt to unite with the rest of the 1 million union members working in New York, or with the rest of the city's population.
In a city where 80% of the population (including many middle class and even wealthy folks) are renters and where landlords and real estate developers are widely despised as rent gouging parasites, this is truly tragic, since we'd have plenty of allies from among the city's population as a whole if we took on the developers head-on.
Also, it almost goes without saying, there's been no effort to unite with the Occupy Wall Street movement, despite that movement's strong anti corporate focus and the willingness of OWS activists to unite with and help labor struggles in creative ways that, legally, unions often can't engage in.
OWS actively assisted the locked out Teamster art handlers at Sotheby's Auction House, a firm run by multimillionaires that sells million dollar artwork to other rich people. They wanted to replace highly trained Teamster art handlers with near minimum wage temps - not because the firm had any financial hardship (the company does SIX BILLION DOLLARS A YEAR in sales), but because they were greedy and they thought they could.
Thanks to the leadership of Teamsters local 814 appealing to OWS, working closely with folks from that group and using OWS activists to do aggressive picketing and protest tactics that a union can't do under the NLRB framework, the Teamsters won that dispute.
OWS activists were also actively involved in supporting locked out Utility Workers Union members at Consolidated Edison back in July, and also have been actively involved in the struggles of Communications Workers of America members to get a contract at Verizon.
There's no reason why the building trades couldn't work with OWS - the activists there would be happy to support us and our struggles.
The irony is, when New York's construction unions were originally organized in the mid 19th century, they were very much committed to social unionism and struggles for the needs of the working class as a whole.
Like the people involved in Occupy Wall Street today, many construction union leaders of those days were far left radicals - socialists, communists, anarchists.
Those unions also fought the contractors for more control over the jobsites - the pace of work, job safety and, above all, control over hiring.
Unfortunately, that changed when the contractors and developers here decided to end their resistance to unionization in the 1890s.
The leaders of the building trades unions traded their militant demands for a more democratic construction industry and their broader demands for a better society in return for recognition of the unions by the contractors.
Worse yet, that arms-length bargaining relationship turned into a full fledged partnership, not only with the contractors but also with the gangsters who were just beginning to emerge as a major force in the building trades in New York at that time.
By the 1920s, that partnership with the contractors and the gangsters had turned into full scale subordination of the unions to the bosses and the wiseguys.
The union agenda took second place to helping the gangsters and the bosses control the market, limit competition between contractors and keep construction prices high through racketeering, price fixing and illegal restraint of trade.
Members did get higher wages, some trades got strong safety rules (Electricians, Ironworkers, Elevator Constructors, Cement Workers) and, after WW II, all trades got pensions and health coverage.
However, those gains came with a high price for the workers and their unions.
When it came to hiring, some unions, like the Sheet Metal Workers, Roofers, Plumbers & Steamfitters, Operating Engineers, Teamsters and Elevator Constructors, left hiring largely under the control of the bosses.
In the case of the Teamsters and the Operating Engineers, the only union-controlled hiring was for non working shop stewards on large jobs. Those stewards, unlike shop stewards in all the other trades, did no work for the boss and just hung out around the trailer all day. They often served as "bagmen" for the gangsters, collecting the "tribute" (payoffs) the wiseguys got from contractors on the sites.
With the Teamsters, at a time when their non construction locals in the freight industry and at moving van lines were setting up seniority systems that enabled casual workers to, over time, become full time trucking company employees with rights on the job, their construction locals let the contractors control most of the jobs with no job security for members, as long as the union could control the onsite shop steward jobs.
In practice, the Genovese family told the Teamsters who would be employed as non working onsite shop stewards on those jobs, especially in hirise buildings where lots of payoffs could be extracted from the contractors in return for the union tolerating contract violations.
The non working onsite Teamster stewards also could, and did, do all sorts of other criminal activity on the jobsites - trafficking in "mongo" (stolen scrap metal), drug dealing, gambling, loansharking, miscellaneous petty theft ect. As long as they paid 2% tribute on everything they made to their bosses in the Genovese family, it was all OK.
In the Sheet Metal Workers and the Plumbers & Steamfitters, total employer control of hiring led to those unions being the most racially segregated unions in the NYC building trades.
From the turn of the century to the 1960s', the Carpenters had a shape up system, where companies could take workers from job to job and workers could directly go to jobs to see if contractors were hiring. In some cases large groups of carpenters would go to jobsites as they were coming out of the ground, seeking to be hired as a group for the duration of the job.
During the 1960s, the Carpenters adopted a hiring hall system. Contractors could have part of their crew be company men that they either took from job to job or hired off the street at the site, provided that they hired a steward and a portion of the crew from the union.
The Bricklayers, the Cement Workers, Mason Tenders, Heavy Construction and Pavers locals of the Laborers, Lathers, Plasterers & Cement Masons, Painters and Boilermakers had similar hiring systems and went through a similar evolution from shaping to partially union run job referral systems.
The Electricians had the most elaborate job referral system. In the 1930s the Electricians and the NY Electrical Contractors Association set up a joint labor-management controlled hiring hall, known as the Joint Industry Board.
Contractors could hire their foremen and 10% of their workforce directly. Everybody else had to come from the Joint Board hiring hall. They would all be taken from job to job as long as there was work to be had.
Even the best of these hiring systems actively went along with employer discrimination against Black and Latino tradesmen, or at best, segregated tradesmen of color into the least desirable and lowest paying jobs.
When radical Black and Latino workers associations called Coalitions began to violently protest job discrimination in construction in the mid 1960s, the unions found themselves bearing the brunt of the protests. The Lathers, Steamfitters and Sheet Metal Workers chose to aggressively defend employer racial discrimination, wasting hundreds of thousands of dollars on lawsuits that were eventually defeated in court.
The Coalitions were able to take advantage of the shape up provisions in the contracts of the Carpenters, the Bricklayers and the Mason Tenders and those trades rapidly integrated in the face of the protests. The Electricians, having the most control of hiring, also slowly opened up their trade to men of color.
Unfortunately, all those years of subordination to the bosses and the wiseguys had weakened the unions, so they weren't able to deal with the first major attack on union construction in this city in the mid 1970s.
The city was faced with a two-fold crisis.
The City government had repealed Rent Control in 1971, replacing it with a much weaker Rent Stabilization law. There was a loophole in the law that enabled landlords to decontrol existing apartments by driving out the tenants. Many landlords proceeded to do so, with tactics ranging from the use of thugs to terrorize tenants to the outright burning down of occupied buildings.
City subsidies for new construction of luxury housing gave a strong economic incentive for this wave landlord terrorism.
By 1975, the City of New York was bankrupt from financing the luxury housing construction and had thousands of vacant lots where burnt out buildings had once stood.
The City had to rebuild those housing units. However, with representatives of Lazard Frères, Citibank and other municipal creditors directly controlling city funds, the City had to do that work as cheaply as possible.
The City's answer was to have the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development in effect launder the money through city-funded but privately-run Not for Profit Community Based Organizations.
The City claimed that the CBOs were exempt from federal, state and city prevailing wage laws, so the contractors they hired were under no obligation to pay prevailing wages.
Initially, many of the contractors that did this work were union.....kindasorta.
The then head of the Metropolitan New York Drywall Association, Genovese family captain Vinny Di Napoli, helped many of these companies (including his own firm, Inner City Drywall) pay less than union wage and benefit scales with no interference from the Carpenters Union.
When a Painters Union local representing drywall tapers didn't go along and went on strike, Di Napoli, along with another Genovese family captain, Louis Moscatiello, Sr, got the Carpenters Union to keep its members working during the strike and got the Plasterers & Cement Masons Union to charter a local union to represent the scabs.
Outright non union contractors began to come onto these HPD residential jobs. Unable to use the union hiring halls for extra labor, they relied on the Coalitions - and on union members who were desperate for work due to a recession in progress at the time.
This was a disaster for the unions, and opened the door for the wholesale deunionization of much of the New York construction industry. From nearly 100% union market share in the 60s the unions declined to less than 40% today.
The unions had no response to this, since by this time most of the construction unions in the city were dominated by organized crime, in particular the Genovese crime family (although some locals answered to smaller crime families like the Bonnanos, Luccheses and Colombos, with the Gambino and Di Cavalcante families and independent groups of Irish and Jewish gangsters also having some minor influence as well)
However, the developers and the financers were getting sick and tired of paying 2% "tribute" (that is to say payoffs) to one gangster or another on every job they did in New York.
They leaned on the government and the authorities, city, state and federal, began a crackdown on racketeering in the building trades that continues to this day, over 30 years later.
The feds, the state and the city have greatly weakened the racketeers, and largely driven them from the industry, in particular from the unions.
The two biggest construction unions, the Carpenters and the Laborers, still operate under federal monitorship to this very day.
There was an upside to that - construction unions in New York are now more democratic than any time since before World War I and four of the unions - the Carpenters, Mason Tenders, Painters and Ironworkers - actually make serious attempts to do organizing.
However, the role that the gangsters used to pay in putting a floor under prices and labor costs no longer exists. There is a race to the bottom, especially in residential construction, pushing construction worker wages to rock bottom levels.
The developers and the General Contractors who use union labor are anxious to cash in on this windfall, which is why the Building Trades Employers Association, the Realty Advisory Board, the NY Building Congress, Columbia University, the Regional Plan Association, the Manhattan Institute and the Association for Affordable Housing are all trying to gut our wages, benefits and union work rules.
We as union construction workers and the leaders of our union have not had a coherent trades wide response to this coordinated attack and that is a serious problem for us.
If we remain isolated as individual crafts on the defensive, they will defeat us.
We have to fight back in an organized way.
First and foremost, that would mean all 17 trades uniting and struggling together. That's easier said than done - especially between trades that have overlapping jurisdiction and tend to fight over whose members do what jobs - and this has been a problem with us for 150+ years.
However, this is something we have to deal with - why fight over crumbs when there is so much non union work out there?
We also have to approach organizing in a systematic way. We have to put pressure on the scab contractors and make it difficult for them to operate here. This is where the Teamsters could be really helpful - everything that gets installed comes to the jobsites on a truck and in New York most of those trucks are driven by Teamsters Union members.
If there was an organized effort by the Teamsters to respect union picketlines it would be very hard to build non union in this town. There are obvious NLRB-related obstacles to that union telling its members to refuse to cross picketlines. However, many Teamsters contracts have a clause that says that individual drivers have a right to respect picket lines. It would be useful to remind their members of that fact - and of the protection they have from discipline for not crossing a picket line.
There also has to be a serious effort to organize strikes for union recognition among non union construction workers - particularly in the hospitality and HPD subsidized housing sectors. That would help to limit the serious threat that the low wages on those jobs has on the wages paid in the union sector. Plus, all those workers being brought into the union through struggle would make our unions stronger and more militant.
There is no absence of pro union sentiment among non union workers. After all, who the hell wants to do a $ 46/hr job for $ 7/hr? However, it can be politically difficult within unions to add new members when existing members are out of work. Of course, if these workers and the companies they work for are organized, they'd be bringing their work with them, so it wouldn't displace the current members from work hours.
In the case of the hospitality sector, there needs to be a serious coordinated struggle against developer Sam Chang. He buys the franchise rights to open discount branches of international hotel chains like Holliday Inn, Westin and Ramada, but he builds the hotels with cheap labor and then staffs them with low wage non union workers.
The Building & Construction Trades Council, the Hotel & Motel Trades Council and UNITE HERE (the national union in the hotel industry) should team up and target Sam Chang's operations from end to end. The goal should be to either unionize his whole operation from construction to operations, or drive him out of the industry.
OWS could be very helpful here - they can do stuff the unions can't (since they don't have the restrictions on freedom of speech that the National Labor Relations Act imposes on unions) and they can make Sam Chang a household name, hated by liberal and pro labor New Yorkers the same way we hate Wal-Mart and the Koch Brothers.
Chang's contractors, the Weiss brothers and their firm, Flintlock Construction, the biggest and most aggressive scab contractor in the city, could also be targeted for similar protests with the same goal - they go union or they leave this market.
Again, OWS can do the type of protests that unions can't do legally, so they would be quite an asset in making Andrew and "Chip" Weiss infamous and despised in this city.
As for concessions, the fact is, it's a tragedy and a crime that we gave away the store to Ross and Hutcheson on Hudson Yards. Those men and their companies, Related and Oxford, are loaded and they can afford to pay full union scale on this $ 15 billion project.
If they actually did live up to their threat to go scab, the proper response would be mass picketing, the way we confronted out of town scab contractor Roy Kay when they did a big nonunion job for the Transit Authority on W 54th St back in 1998.
I'm quite sure Ross and Hutcheson would back down if they had 40,000 workers on 11th Av confronting their scab contractors and shutting them down.
We need to fight the billionaires, not grovel before them!
Project Labor Agreements are a useful way of preserving prevailing wages and area standards on big jobs - even if a non union contractor gets in there, they have to follow our rules and pay our wages and benefits.
Giving concessions in PLAs beyond minor questions like everybody working the same hours and having the same holidays is a really bad idea - especially the money concessions.
As for the HPD subsidized housing developers, they have long claimed that if they paid more than the miserly $ 7 to $ 15 an hour with no benefits, they wouldn't be able to build as many units of housing as they do.
This is probably true, since the whole point of laundering HPD housing funds through the not for profits is so they can evade Davis Bacon prevailing wages.
We should offer to join with the NYC Association for Affordable Housing in lobbying the state legislature and congress for more funding for their programs, so they can pay a living wage to their workers.
If they agree to go along, we could offer them some minor concessions - a slightly lower wage (but no less than 90% of union scale and benefits), a one to one apprentice to one journeylevel worker ratio (instead of the one apprentice to four journeylevel workers on commercial jobs), an 8 hour day instead of the 7 hour day that prevails on most union jobs here.
If they don't want to join with us, we should lobby on our own - and launch a full court press campaign against these developers to make them pay their labor the wages and benefits they deserve, with no concessions at all.
Again, OWS would be very helpful here. They could expose the developers who stand behind the Association for Affordable Housing, men like Ken Haron who got very wealthy using low income housing subsidies to build luxury housing in poor working class minority neighborhoods like Harlem, a White man who became a multimillionaire underpaying Black and Latino labor.
As I outlined above with Sam Chang and the Weiss brothers, Occupy could make Haron famous (and not in a good way) and either turn his jobs or make him leave this market.
The idea is to go on the offensive, not to just brace ourselves for the next attack.
As for the Full Mobility system, it is a sore point with union carpenters for a reason.
We know our contractors well and we know they will abuse it. They will discriminate against older carpenters, and women, and Black and Latino men, and 4th year apprentices. They will play favorites in who they hire, giving jobs out based on family ties rather than merit. They will also make carpenters trade lower wages for steady work.
There arguments about efficiency do have a point.
Company men who do the same work for the same firm every day are going to be faster than local men who do different types of work for different companies and often have long bouts of unemployment between labor calls.
We should demand a system where the bulk of us have more or less steady jobs with a company - hell, the Electricians got that in 1936!
We should demand a system where they can grandfather in their current company men, but 90 of all future hiring would be through a joint labor-management run job referral system. They could take those workers from job to job - with a shop steward hired from the union for each job and everybody else a steady employee taken from job to job.
We could also adopt a provision from the Southwestern Regional Council of Carpenters residential drywall agreement, the Carpenters Union's first Full Mobility contract.
Under that agreement, when a contractor hires a carpenter, that worker is a probationary employee for the first 3 days that can be laid off for any reason, but once they complete their probationary period, they can only be fired for cause or laid off due to lack of work.
That would be a big improvement for us, because under all of our agreements, the contractors can fire any one of us at any time for any reason.
We can also borrow an idea from Teamsters local 814's commercial movers contract (those workers work closely with Carpenter furniture installers, so they are closely related to our industry) - a seniority system.
Under the local 814 Teamsters seniority system, they start out as casuals with a company. Eventually, after accumulating time working for that company, they get put on the seniority list. Job assignments are made based on seniority, with the most senior teamster at each company getting the first dibs on overtime and work assignments, followed by less senior teamsters, with casuals getting work when everybody else is employed.
Nationally, Teamster locals in the freight industry use this system, as do other local Teamster driver locals right here in New York. On the waterfront, both the east coast and west coast longshoremen's unions have a similar system for handing out work in a fair manner.
There is no reason why we and the other trades shouldn't demand something like this. Other unions like the Teamsters and the Longshoremen who represent casual workers have used this method for DECADES. We should demand it too.
Of course, we'd have to fight tooth and nail to achieve this, since the developers and the general contractors want to push our employers to cut our wages and eliminate workrules, rather than make our pay higher and our workrules stronger.
However, it is a winnable fight.
We just need to unite all of the trades and to unite with our natural allies - the Teamsters, the Utility Workers, the Communications Workers, the public employees, the janitors in the SEIU, the hotel workers, really the labor movement as a whole. We also have to make common cause with Occupy and movements like it, and with the working class.
The developers are not our friends.
They are our enemies.
They are also the enemies of the rest of the working class, and New York City tenants of all classes.
Their billions come from our hard work, and from the extortionately high rents they extract from the people of the City of New York.
We need to go on the offensive against them, and their allies in Corporate America.
We need to do this in alliance with the rest of the working class, first and foremost with our brothers and sisters in the other trades.
The alternative is a continued race to the bottom, that won't stop until we're reduced to the level of our unrepresented brothers and sisters in the non union segment of this industry.
It takes a fight to win.
We need leaders who are willing to fight, not just to negotiate the terms of our surrender.
- commentary by GREGORY A. BUTLER, LOCAL 157 CARPENTER
FOR GANGBOX: CONSTRUCTION WORKERS NEWS SERVICE
"UNION NOW, UNION FOREVER"
Originally published on Tuesday, August 28, 2012
© 2012 Gregory A. Butler, all rights reserved.