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"to Bring About Stable Conditions In The Industry"

Started by GREGORYABUTLER, September 20, 2009, 09:44:08 am

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The District Council of Carpenters gave up control over 50% of the workforce on the jobsites - through something called the referral system.
Now, contractors could not only have half their crew on each job be company men, but they could  have company men sign the out of work list and, as long as they'd worked for that firm within the last 6 months, they could be dispatched as "local men", even though they were actually company men.
This made it harder for local men to get jobs, and put carpenters in a position where they had to do whatever they could to get requested - even if that meant working for cash off the books.
This also made it very hard for the shop steward system to function - since, in many cases, the steward was the only actual local man on the job - which made it harder for them to enforce union rules on the sites.
This made it much easier for cash contractors to operate - and carpentry outfits that paid off the books began moving from luxury residential into office interior work, the core of the unionized building trades in New York.
And, since the Carpenters were, by far, the largest trade, that set the tone for the rest of the building trades.
There was yet another government intervention in the Carpenters - the feds could not get an administration they liked elected to office, but the state was able to oust the old leadership, by arresting the District Council president.
The international Carpenters Union imposed a trusteeship, dissolved 7 of the weaker locals, merging them with the 10 remaining locals and put in new bylaws that were much more to the feds liking.
One was the creation of an Organizing Department - which, on the surface, was actually a very good thing.
One of the problems was that one of the first "organizing efforts" involved adding 2,000 new members - so the contractors would always have a large pool of jobless members, even during the busiest time of the year.
Another organizing effort was among scaffolding contractors - some of whom had ripped up their union contracts and gone scab, while others were cash outfits that were "union" in name only.
The District Council of Carpenters removed scaffold carpenters from regular carpenter locals, put them into the lower paying Timbermens local 1536 and set up a two tier wage where they got paid 30% less than timbermen - who already made 20% less than other carpenters!
This basically rewarded the cash contractors and it didn't bring back the scab outfits, who already were paying much lower wages and no benefits to the undocumented workers they'd hired after deunionizing.
There was another effort in Harlem, where HPD low income housing funding was being20used to build luxury housing.
The contractors there paid their workers off the books - with skilled carpenters and bricklayers getting only $ 7/hr and laborers and helpers only getting the illegal sub minimum wage of $ 4/hr.
The District Council of Carpenters offered a wage far below union scale, and the right to classify many of these workers as even lower paid apprentices.
The contractors turned it down - because they paid off the books, any union scale would have been unacceptable, since they'd have to pay for statutory benefits like social security, workers comp and unemployment, as well as union benefits.
Any union contract would have entailed a major labor cost increase, simply because of the requirements that workers be paid on the books!
The Carpenters Organizing Department also set up an elaborate picketing system, where every member was obligated to picket one day a year - the Mason Tenders and Painters Dis trict Council # 9 had similar systems in their unions.
However, none of the other trades did any significant organizing - and most of the outfits signed up by the three unions that did organize were firms that were seeking to bid on unionized commercial work, who would have had to go union anyway.
The Carpenters did carry out several quite lengthy NLRB organizing election campaigns in Harlem - which, despite the heroic willingness of many non union carpenters to risk their jobs to fight for their rights, ended unsuccessfully, with contractors engaging in the typical union busting campaigns that most non union companies carry out against NRLB election campaigns these days.
What was needed was a citywide campaign - focused on the two big growth areas for scab construction - luxury housing in Harlem and Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
If there had been an attempt to organize all the contractors in those areas at the same time - and to strike those contractors if they refused to s ign up - that might have worked.
But piecemeal one shop at a time NLRB campaigns were doomed to defeat even before they started.
The NLRB cases and the picketing did have a harassment effect - contractors often had to repeatedly change business names to avoid the judgments (some firms routinely used three different corporate entities - one owned by the husband, the second owned by the wife and the third owned jointly by the couple) - and some firms were forced to at least go through the motions of negotiating with the unions.
But those lawsuits and picketlines just weren't enough to turn the sector around and reunionize it.
In part because of the grotesquely low wages on the scab side of the residential sector, the New York building industry was beginning to pull out of it's early 1990's recession.
Public sector subsidies also helped - like in Harlem, where=0 Alarge areas that had been burned out during the landlord arson fires of the 1970's were now being rebuilt.
HPD and HUD funds were being used - to build so called "affordable housing" - but the term "affordable" was defined in such a way that only affluent people would even be elegible to live in those apartments.
This - along with much of Harlem's private housing stock being brought up by private equity fund speculators - began to force out the community's low income Black and Latino residents, replacing them with White professionals.
Williamsburg, Brooklyn, a neighborhood once populated by a mix of Jewish, Latino, Polish and Italian blue collar workers, was similarly being gentrified.
A wave of "hipsters" - young White artists from wealthy families - were moving into the area. They could pay very high rents (because their rich parents paid their rent for them) so landlords could - and did - jack up rents, drive out worki ng class families and replace them with affluent hipsters.
Private developers came into the area, and began to build luxury apartments for these well heeled youngsters - of course, just like in Harlem, low paid non union labor was used on these buildings as well.
There was a similar upsurge in apartment building construction in heavily immigrant parts of Southern Brooklyn and Northern Queens as well - with underpaid non union workers being used there as well.
The same thing happened in Staten Island - lots of single family homes were being built in the rapidly growing borough, with subminimum wage off the books labor used on these jobs too.
This huge building boom could have - and should have - been organized.
Many of the workers were Mexican, Ecuadorian or Polish immigrants - from countries with longstanding traditions of labor militancy, living in communities with a well developed network of community organizations and churches which would have certainly supported union organizing.
On many of the Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan jobs, there was a large pool of Russian, Uzbek, Ukrainian and Georgian workers - brutally underpaid, often by bosses from their own countries - who also could have been mobilized - and who's communities could also have been mobilized against the Russian bosses who were superexploiting them.
On the Harlem jobs, many of the African American and Afro Caribbean workers were former or current Coalition members - some were even former union workers driven by unemployment and the request system to work scab - who also would've supported a serious mass organizing campaign.
And, the Chinese workers on the jobs Lower Manhattan, Northern Queens and Sunset Park, Brooklyn also had their own traditions of struggle - including the many of those workers who had been in the Chinese Coalition, the CCWA - and there were also community organizations that could have been mobilized on their behalf as well.
&n bsp;
Unfortunately, the inadequate organizing campaigns by the Carpenters, Mason Tenders and the Painters - and the utter failure by the rest of the trades to do anything at all - meant that all these workers were left non union.
This was a great opportunity that was totally wasted by the New York Building Trades - an opportunity that, had it been taken, could have been a shot in the arm for the trades, not only here but nationally.
Of course, there were reasons why the unions abandoned these workers.
Basically, it was because any serious organizing campaign would have run right up against the need of the contractors to keep labor costs low, especially in the post cosa nostra era in which there was no strong outside entity fixing prices and limiting the competition for clients.
A big struggle by non union workers would mobilize a lot of union members as well, which would make things20like paying cash and violating union work rules a whole lot harder to do.
For union leaders who's natural orientation was towards the company men and, through them, towards the contractors, waging any kind of serious struggle against the contractors was unthinkable.
The feds didn't want a mass movement of workers either, because that would force up labor costs for the industry, and would cut into the profits of the clients, bankers and developers - nor did the Mason Tenders, the only union that was on the client's side of the fence because of the ties of company man building laborers to the GC's.
Of course, a mass movement by non union construction workers would have greatly helped local men - but, since they had no organized movement that spoke for them, their interests could be - and were - matter of factly ignored by all parties.
Even more unfortunately, many local men had very serious illusions in the feds - many actually felt that the government was intervening in the unions to help th e workers - when, as I've pointed out above, that was not the case at all.
The deunionization was starting to have a corrosive effect on union conditions - even in a relatively strong union like Electricians local 3.
The union's J Division, which represented street light maintenance electricians (who were paid a lower wage than construction electricians), was quietly allowing some of the street light contractors to use non union electricians to install street lights in the new housing subdivisions in Staten Island.
Local 3's A Division - the construction electricians - also had to deal with local 1101 of the Communications Workers of America signing sweetheart low wage contracts with datacom contractors that installed voice and data lines in office buildings and local 363 of the Teamsters, which signed sweetheart contracts with electrical shops that did work for the city (363 let them have half the crew be low paid "trainees").
The Laborers Union's20Cement and Concrete Workers District Council still, on paper, had good wages and conditions.
However, in practice, with the largest firm in the hirise concrete sector, North Berry Construction (formerly S & A Concrete - Fat Tony's company) paying cash and so many other unionized hirise concrete outfits following suit, many company man concrete laborers often had to endure below union scale off the books pay in order to get steady work.
And local man concrete laborers who did not work for cash ended up spending lots of time on the unemployment line, only called to work when lots of labor was needed and they couldn't avoid paying union scale.
But, by far, the worst of the decay was in the Carpenters Union.
The cash problem had previously largely been confined to drywall & ceilings and hirise concrete contractors who built luxury apartment buildings (the last union island in a sea of non union residential construction) and office furniture outfits and venetian blind contractors in the office interior sect or.
Now, you had commercial drywall contractors - including relatively large firms like On Par Construction and Commodore - paying cash on major commercial jobs in Midtown and the Financial District.
On Par's owner also ran scab jobs in the Bronx, through a front company.
R & J Construction, the city's largest African American owned union drywall contractor, also ran scab work in Harlem, with workers frequently hired on scab jobs and promised that, if they worked very hard, and put up at least 100 boards a day, maybe they might get shifted to union jobs and actually paid union scale.
The GC's, developers, clients and bankers - and the feds - did not like this because these illegally paid low wages were kept secret from the financiers and the profits of superexploitation were pocketed by the subs, not passed on to the moneymen.
This is why the Carpenters remained a major target of state and federal probes - because they were illegally helping subs get over on contractors.
Plasterers local 530 - the scab drywall taping union set up after the Genoveses broke the 1978 drywall tapers strike - was involved in similar racketeering acts on behalf of the subcontractors.
Local 530's founder, Louis Moscatiello, Sr, had gotten out of jail - but was still barred from involvement in the union for life.
So the Genovese family captain used his son and namesake, Louis Moscatiello, Jr, to run the union in his place.
This was technically illegal - since Moscatiello the younger was himself a drywall taping contractor and therefore barred by federal law from running a union - so Louis Sr and Louis Jr used a faceman as nominal president of the union, while still actually running the organization.
By the late 1990's, the bulk of the tapers in local 530 were Latinos,=2 0Blacks and White immigrants - much of the membership worked for cash and received no benefits from the local 530 Welfare Fund.
Meanwhile, in 1998, the feds lost control over the International Brotherhood of Teamsters - the pro FBI leadership got caught committing ham handed election fundraising fraud, and the feds had no choice but to order a new election.
The TDU backed faction that had run the union on the fed's behalf had a very weak social base within the union, and lost the election.
They were defeated by a slate that had a solid base in the leaderships of the non FBI controlled local unions.
Those local officers in turn had a solid base among the more privileged high seniority drivers - the trucking industry's company men.
And those high seniority guys tended to have close ties with the managers of the freight carriers, and tended to see the world the same way the bosses of the trucking compa nies did.
The trucking companies were happy to see the new leadership in the IBT - they had never liked the TDU/FBI regime, because it was loyal to the big corporations who they hauled freight for, rather than to them.
The new Teamsters leadership - led by Jim Hoffa, the lawyer son of the famous Jimmy Hoffa - was so welcomed by the owners of the trucking companies that a trucking industry trade magazine actually ran the headline "In Love With Hoffa"
With IBT headquarters no longer under government control, it became harder for the feds to intervene in Teamsters locals.
Of course, by this time, all of the major Teamsters locals involved with the New York building trades were already under government control to one degree or another, so it was just a question of the feds preserving control over unions that they'd already taken over.
Because of20the fact that every construction union except the Mason Tenders was, to some degree or other, allowing union subcontractors to secretly pay below union scale wages to at least a part of their workforce, while still billing the GC's as if they actually paid union scale, the feds and the state had to continue their investigations of virtually every building trades union in the city.
The original objective of the federal and state probes had failed - the unions were still helping the subs covertly reduce labor costs while keeping prices high - the original objective, to openly and legally reduce construction worker labor costs and to have the superprofits from those reduced wages passed directly on to the GC's, developers, bankers and clients, had yet to be achieved.
The feds and the moneymen also had the threat of worker militancy to worry about.
By 1998, the City of New York had become one of the largest users of scab building trades labor in the city - the New York City Housing Authority (with 130,000 units the city's biggest landlord) did 100% of it's work non union as did HPD, the other big city housing agency =E 2 and other branches of the city government were not far behind.
This included the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
The MTA had been quietly using the services of Roy Kay, Inc, a scab HVAC outfit from New Jersey for many years - and, based on all that MTA business, Roy Kay had quietly expanded from a sheet metal sub to a full service GC.
The MTA was automating it's subway control operations and consolidating them into one building on 9th Avenue on Manhattan's West Side - and they hired Roy Kay to build this Subway Command Center.
This was a huge slap in the face for the building trades.
The MTA was doing a 100% non union job in the middle of Manhattan, within walking distance of the all union hirise jobs that were the core of what was left of the unionized sector of the building trades.
The "Organize Unions" - Carpenters, Mason Tenders, Painters - had no choice but to picket this job aggressively.
The licensed trades - Electricians, Operating Engineers, Plumbers, (who had felt that state training and education requirements would protect them) also had to do something - since their work was being done scab too.
And the Building Trades Council had to act as well - because it was just too blatant an attack on them!
The other trades had to follow along as well.
So, on Tuesday, June 30, 1998, the Building Trades Council held a rally in front of MTA headquarters on Madison Av and E 47th St, next to Grand Central Terminal.
The rally started at 10 - and the plan was for every union tradesperson in the city to leave their jobs, listen to speeches by union officials, Democratic Party politicians (and contractors!) and then just walk back to their jobs at 1PM to finish out the day
It didn't happen like that!
Over 40,000 construction workers turned out for the rally - with many not even bothering to go to work before going there - in effect, it was a general strike of the unionized trades in Midtown Manhattan and the Financial District.
After about a half hour of speeches, a group of plumbers and steamfitters at the front of the rally turned their backs on the speakers, and began marching across town to the jobsite.
Within a few minutes, just about every worker at the rally was following them - except for the few hundred who stayed behind to blockade Madison Av in front of the MTA building, shutting down all the bus lines that=2 0ran past that corner.
The workers fanned out - some went as far down as E 40th St, others as far up as E 56th St, forming a human barricade and shutting down all car, truck and bus traffic in Midtown.
There were only a few hundred cops on scene - mostly traffic division officers - because the BTC had promised the NYPD that this would be a "peaceful rally" which would be tightly controlled by the unions.
Those handful of cops stood stunned as workers grabbed police barricades and threw them out of the way.
At this point, the union leaders abandoned the stage and rushed to the head of the rally to try and take command of it - which did not succeed (they were carried along by the workers, rather than leading them).
In front of the Subway Command Center, the NYPD rallied - the Mounted Unit arrived on horseback and a contingent of 200+ police cadets from the aca demy, pulled from classes and rushed to the site, confronted the picketers.
The cops were ordered to attack, and they sprayed the crowd with pepper spray (some of the cadets - with no riot training and not even having been issued gas masks - accidentally maced themselves, accounting for the bulk of the 44 NYPD officer injuries that day).
43 construction workers were arrested - and dozens more were pepper sprayed but eluded arrest.
This was a dramatic event - the biggest construction workers strike in New York City since 1936 and a huge show of militancy.
It could have been the jumping off point for a citywide strike - and a mass mobilization of the non union workers, which would have had implications far beyond New York and could have totally shaken the industry nationwide.
But instead of rallying the troops, the vice president of the New York City=2 0Building Trades went on New York 1 (the city's 24 hour all news cable channel) and publicly apologized to Mayor Giuliani and the entire real estate industry for the strike!
He also pledged that never again would the New York Building Trades ever call a strike on that kind of scale.
Not only were there no follow up rallies but, at every subsequent rally since then, the building trades have made damned sure that workers are carefully penned in metal police barricades - and the Mason Tenders organizers are used to help the cops keep the workers in line (with the Laborers organizers not only bullying the more militant workers but also leading the rallies in pro police department chants!)
The "40,000 Man March" (as many New York construction workers came to call it) reminded the feds of just how important it was to keep the unions in check, because of the enormous danger a construction workers revolt would pose - directly for the real estate interests the government was directly fighting for here, and on a wider scale for the entire rul ing class of New York City!
The unions - and the contractors who they collaborated with at the expense of the majority of their members - were equally as terrified of a worker revolt!
A mass movement of construction workers would jeopardize the financial interests of the union subcontractors (which, more and more, depended on sellout deals with the unions - both legal and illegal).
Also, any serious organizing campaign would flood the unions with thousands of militant workers.
And most of those unorganized tradespeople were Latinos, Blacks, Asians or European immigrants - and workers from all of those groups had well deserved reputations for militancy.
That influx of militant immigrants and workers of color would weaken the social base of the present building trades union leadership, which was based on a narrow privileged layer of foremen and company men.
So neither the government, the GC's, the subs nor the unions wanted any kind of mass organizing campaign - in fact, they were terrified of such a possibility!
And for the mass of local man union tradespeople and non  union workers (who DID want such a movement) there was no organized force to speak for them, so their burning needs and desires were matter-of-factly ignored by those in power.
The next year - 1999 - the international trusteeship over the city's largest building trades union - the Carpenters - had expired and it was time for yet another set of elections.
The feds were even further away from it's objective of winning a pro government slate in the Carpenters Union - the leadership of Carpenters local 608, the biggest carpenters local in the city (made even larger by it's merger with a defunct Bronx local during the trusteeship) overwhelmingly won the election, against weak and divided opposition (and with only one opposition candidate supporting the feds - and he came in dead last)
Of course, the vast majority of New York union carpenters didn't even bother to vote - with voting heavily concentrated among company men and retirees.
Incidentally, during the election campaign, S & S Construction, a firm owned by the daughter of the boss of the DeCavalcante crime family and her husband, allegedly paid a $ 10,000 bribe to use non union carpenters - and union carpenters getting paid cash - to do part of the drywall work at the Parc Central Hotel in Midtown Manhattan.
The alleged bribe receiver?
The winner of the 1999 District Council general elections.


This case proved that the Carpenters Union leadership in New York were still dedicated to the task of helping the dominant, cosa nostra connected section of subcontractors illegally reduce labor costs, and conceal those reduced labor costs from the clients - who were still being charged full price.
The feds and the state still had not achieved their goal of forcing the subs and the unions to legally and openly reduce labor costs, and pass those savings up the food chain to the GC's and the developers.
And, while the government continued to try and regulate the construction unions they began to step up the deunionization of that large and rapidly growing part of the industry that they directly financed.
And no public agency was more aggressive about the task of deunionization than the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development - the main funder of publicly subsidized housing construction in New York City.
By far, HPD's biggest program was the rebuilding of Harlem - an effort which, on paper, was oriented towards developing "affordable" housing for working class Blacks and Latinos, but, in practice, was largely focused on building luxury homes for affluent White professionals.
And these half million dollar co-ops were built by some of the lowest paying scab contractors that HPD could find.
As I pointed out above, the Carpenters had spent the better part of half a decade trying to organize these firms - using one contractor at a time NLRB methods that were all but useless - even when the Carpenters won an election (as they often did - since these brutally underpaid $ 7/hr workers badly wanted and needed a union) the firms would do a paper name change and stay non union.
The big pockets of private residential development in Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Staten Island followed a similar pattern of extremely low wages and aggressive union evasion.
Sadly, with the exception of the Carpenters, Mason Tenders, Painters and local 361 of the Ironworkers, they really didn't have that many unions to evade, since most trades were doing little to any organizing.
For the first time since 1936, the majority of New York construction workers were now non union.
Normally, building booms push construction worker earnings up - but not this one.
Nominally, the unions were still getting wage increases - some quite substantial - but for the majority of local men, who worked part time, that just meant that they got better paid for the relatively few hours they actually worked.
Union contractors - particularly those that hired carpenters - also increasingly weakened union hiring rules, to let them use mostly or all company man crews.
The excuse was the claim by the subs that local men were less competent than company men.
The reality was, thanks to the weakening of union job referral rules, workers had to be company guys to be assured of any kind of steady employment - and bosses could make those tradespeople work for less than union scale in return for steady jobs.
There was workplace resistance on the union side - there were two brief wildcat strikes in the summer of 1999 - at the Conde Nast Building at 4 Times Square and the MTA Building at 2 Broadway.
Both strikes were led by drywall carpenters, over the issue of no ventilation during punishingly hot summers.
In both cases, the wildcat strikes resulted in quick victories for the workers - but, of course, the unions didn't follow up on the momentum created by these struggles.
But for those two sparks of resistance, union conditions steadily eroded.
On the scab side - wages for skilled workers hovered close to minimum wage - for laborers, subminimum wage was the norm. With no union protection at all, workers had to take whatever pay the boss felt like paying or they would not have any work at all.
This is also when safety conditions completely collapsed on the scab side of the business - especially in brickpointing.
New York City is a very rainy city that has lots of brick veneer buildings - and, as the City of New York realized going into the late 1990's, the brick exterior walls of those buildings must be brickpointed (repaired and rewaterproofed) regularly, or they will tend to collapse.
This caused the City to pass Local Law 11, which required that all apartment houses in the city get regularly brickpointed.
Landlords and developers didn't like paying to have this done - so they hired the cheapest scab brickpointing contractors available to get the work done.
Most of these non union brickpointers were Sikhs from India and Pakistan, getting very low pay, no benefits and horrendously bad equipment to work with.
Since they work on swing stages (rope supported work platforms that hang off the side of the building) bad equipment is a life of death issue for them.
Around 2000, brickpointer scaffold fails become very common in the city, killing half a dozen or more brickpointers a year.
Hirise window washers begin having the same problem.
Most of them are Latino immigrants (mainly from the Dominican Republic) and they work off the same type of equipment the brickpointers do.
The job had once been all union - Window Washers local 1, Service Employees International Union - but the new pro corporate leadership of the SEIU had disbanded their local and merged them with local 32bj.
32bj prett y much abandoned the window washers, letting their trade be slowly deunionized - and, with no union protection (and a weak union at the shops that were still unionized) window washer safety began to collapse as well.
Window washer deaths became as common as brickpointer deaths - for the same reason - contractor negligence.
These were burning issues for both sets of workers - issues that they would have been willing to organize and strike over, had they been approached.
But, SEIU local 32bj had no interest in organizing the window washers - and as for strikes, the new, pro corporate, SEIU opposed strikes!
The union's official view was that workers who complained about workplace abuses were "bad workers who deserved to be fired" - the SEIU only wanted to organize "shiny happy people" who liked their bosses!
So, fighting for window washers was out of the question.
As for the brickpointers - New York Bricklayers local 1 had shown absolutely no interest in organizing them.
This was not surprising - because many union bricklaying contractors, like their counterparts in drywall and concrete, were paying cash.
This was particularly true in the hirise luxury residential and Davis Bacon public sector work which made up almost the entire brick industry.
So they'd be the last unions to do any kind of organizing work - lest it rile their current membership up, which would disrupt the secret sellout deals that local 1's leaders had made with the bricklaying subs at the expense of their membership.
Also, local 1's White dominated leadership probably were concerned that if they organized a large group of South Asian workers into the union - which was run by Whites but had a large Black minority - they would disrupt the racial balance of power that kept them in charge of the union.
The Mason Tenders, presumably not wanting to jeopardize their 100 year long relationship with the Bricklayers Union, was not about to cross jurisdictional lines and organize the brickpointers.
The Mason Tenders, Bricklayers and the Carpenters were all part of a racketeering case made by the New York County DA that year, along with bricklaying contractor Saul Heifitz, Joseph Martinelli, the owner of North Berry Construction, the city's largest hirise concrete contractor, and several other major bricklaying and paving contractors, as well as several senior members of the Lucchese crime family.
Heifitz - a cash contractor - was recorded saying that he refused to pay his mostly African American bricklayers union scale because "I'm not going to pay no niggers $ 600 a day!"
Heifitz was bold enough to actually say what a lot of New York contractors privately thought - it was one thi ng for them to pay high wages to White male tradespeople - but paying middle income wages to skilled tradespeople of color was a whole hell of a lot less acceptable!
In an industry that was now majority tradespeople of color - and where even the union side was one third Black, Latino and Asian - there were a lot of White bosses who agreed with Heifitz about not wanting to pay workers of color that well.
Sadly, a lot of Black, Latino and Asian contractors had the same attitude towards their tradespeople (even when they were of the same race)!
Even among the White workers, European immigrants faced the same attitude that they did not deserve to be paid anywhere near as well as their White American fellow workers.
And it didn't matter if they were working for their countrymen.
In fact, the immigrant owned firms were among the worst, with Irish tradespeople underpaid by Irish bosses, Russians underpaid by Rus sians, Poles underpaid by Poles, Albanians underpaid by Albanians ect.
The same applied for the Asian-owned subs - Chinese underpaying Chinese, Sikhs underpaying Sikhs, Koreans underpaying Koreans ect.
Some scab firms even had an explicit racial hierarchy - White American workers got the most (and even they made less than union pay - and got no benefits) White European immigrants got a lower pay scale, American Blacks, West Indians and US born Latinos got less than them, Latino immigrants got less than them, and Asian immigrant workers were at the bottom of the barrel.
And, other than a few piecemeal one-contractor-at-a-time efforts by the Laborers, Carpenters, Painters and Ironworkers, none of the unions did anything to help these workers (and the efforts of the unions that did organize were grossly ineffective).
There was only one bright spot of class struggle in the building trades in 2000 - a brief but amazingly effective strike by Teamsters local 814, the commercial movers.
&nb sp;
The local's administration - installed after the feds drove the Bonnano family out of the union and actually run by a former New York City cop who'd never worked as a mover - had settled into a cozy relationship with the moving van lines and the office furniture installation contractors (not that much different then when the wiseguys had run the local).
The leadership continued the Bonnano era policy of allowing the deunionization of the majority of moving van lines that hauled household goods and only preserving the union at the commercial moving lines, office furniture contractors and high end art auction houses.
There was a small dissident caucus - affiliated with TDU - in the local, that forced local 814 to go on strike in June 2000.
The opposition caucus had to organize the conduct of the strike on the ground - since the local 814 leadership refused to have anything to do with picketing or stopping scab jobs.
And the movers put together an amazin gly effective strike organization, more or less from scratch.
Movers were typically sent from job to job by company dispatchers using their cell phones - so, when they organized roving pickets, they used the same method - cell phone dispatched picketers traveled around the city and shut down every scab job in Downtown and Midtown Manhattan.
The Carpenters Union - who represented the furniture installers that worked at the office furniture installation companies - did absolutely nothing to aid this strike.
The only reason those furniture jobs stopped was because the movers picket lines were so effective it was impossible to deliver the office furniture that the carpenters installed.
In the end the movers won the strike on the picket line and the leaders of local 814 gave the victory away at the bargaining table.
And none of the other uni ons in the commercial building sector took advantage of the movers victory to organize their own resistance.
Nor did the leaders of local 814 use the momentum from the strike to launch an organizing drive among the majority of New York household goods movers who were non union.
That would involve actually launching a fight against the low wage Russian Jewish immigrant owned discount commercial moving lines - and mobilizing their Israeli, Russian Jewish, Latino and African American workers into mass struggle.
Local 814's leadership had absolutely no interest in carrying out a struggle like that - because fighting sweatshop bosses and mobilizing superexploited immigrant and minority workers was not their type of unionism.
But this was a shining example of the kind of class struggle resistance that building trades workers were capable of - if only their union leaders would let them fight!
As 2001 dawned, the unionized trades faced a steady decline in commercial work - the overbuilding of the 1980's had never fully been absorbed by the market, and the bulk of the commercial work was renovating existing office space for companies that were being lured by one developer to move out of another developers building.
Only a handful of new office towers were being built.
Those buildings, mostly in the Times Square area (the Arthur Anderson Building, the Reuters Building, the Conde Nast Building and the Ernst and Young Building), and the huge twin tower AoL Time Warner mixed use luxury housing/exclusive five star hotel/office building/upscale mall complex on the site of the New York Coliseum at Columbus Circle all received big government subsidies, otherwise they would not have even been built.
That game of musical chairs had it's limits - and, with the collapse of the speculative internet boom (and the collapse of many dubiously financed web sites - who, in the boom days, had wasted lots of investment capital on expensive office facilities) there was a sharp fall in office renovation.
This accelerated an already growing trend of many contractors in the office interior sector - in particular, drywall & ceilings outfits, office furniture installation firms and venetian blind & drapery contractors - to try and pay cash to at least some of their carpenters.
The Carpenters Union helped facilitate this with the request system - which, as I've pointed out above, made it very difficult for local men to get jobs from the list and drove many carpenters to make deals in return for steady work.
The 2001 - 2006 Carpenters contract accelerated this - by giving a huge pay raise (at least on paper) that, in practice, only bumped up the incomes of company men while making it even easier for contractors to abuse the request system and run their jobs with as few as one legitimate company man on the job (that is, the shop steward) - and now, it became easier to fire shop stewards for "incompetence" (that is, for being militant and actually aggressively representing their union on the site)
Falling union wages - and even lower de facto wages on some union sites - made it easier for the scab contractors to keep their wages at the same miserly low levels, at or below minimum wage.


And if that wasn't bad enough, the New York construction industry was hit by a lightning bolt from out of the sky on the morning of September 11, 2001.
Saudi Arabian-exile terrorists from a group called "al-Qaeda" ["the base"] hijacked 4 commercial airliners that day - two of the planes, both very large Boeing 767 jets, were rammed into the two main towers of the World Trade Center.
Mayhem and carnage ensued.
By 10:30 AM that morning, the two towers - up til that day the tallest buildings on the planet - were piles of rubble, and 2,819 people were dead (including dozens of construction workers employed on renovation jobs in the towers and 4 teamsters making a de livery to the loading dock).
4 other office towers, a federal building, a Marriott hotel and a Greek Orthodox Church were destroyed by the fall of the two great towers. Dozens of surrounding office buildings were heavily damaged - a $ 60 billion insurable event, the biggest such incident by dollar value in the history of the world up to that time.
And 2,200 janitors, stationary engineers, carpenters, electricians and painters got laid off by American Building Maintenance (ABM), the maintenance contractor that serviced the towers (the workers were quite literally laid off the moment the towers fell - people on day shift that day were only paid up to the moment of the collapse - 10:30 AM - and not a second later!)
Initially - when there was still hope of survivors - the WTC collapse scene (soon named "Ground Zero" by the media - and that name stuck) was filled with several hundred construction worker volunteers - including lots and lots of ironworkers, because the city had sent out a special appeal for that trade, due to all the twisted steel that needed to be burned through with acetylene torches.
They assisted a mixed force of police, firefighters, US Marines, Navy Medical Corps personnel, National Guard troops, federal agents, transit workers and sanitation workers - and a lot of random civilians who just wandered into the site to help (or to steal valuables from the dead people and the ruined banks and stores, or to take pictures to sell to the media).
By September 12, the last survivor, Giselle Guzman, a pregnant African American secretary at Port Authority headquarters, was pulled from the ruins - which ended the rescue phase of the operation.
After that point, it became what the City's Emergency Management personnel euphemistically referred to as a "recovery" operation - that is, digging out the lifeless bodies of the slain.
At that point, the owner - the Port Authority - and Larry Silverstein, the luckless billionaire real estate developer who had signed a 99 year lease on the towers just 10 days before the air raid, and who owned one of the wrecked buildings, Seven World Trade Center, outright - shifted to a demolition operation, to clear out the rubble and get some kind of rentable floor space put up above the ruins as soon as possible.
So, the volunteers were tricked out of the site late in the evening of September 14 (for a "meal break" that turned out to be permanent) and they were immediately replaced by paid construction workers.
One of Mayor Giuliani's deputy mayors gave the contracts to three well connected CAGNY affiliated multinational GC's - Bovis Lend Lease, Turner and AMEC, and a GCA affiliated road contractor, Tully, who just happened to have a big job on the West Side Highway, so they had lots of equipment, trucks, tugboats and barges in the neighborhood.
There was no pretense of any kind of competitive bidding and Giuliani had another one of his deputy mayors, Rudy Washington, a former union carpentry contractor who had been sued in federal court for paying cash, supervise the site for the city.
The city, state and federal workers, and some of the military folks, stayed, along with the cops and firefighters (cause the site was a crime scene, after all) but any serious attempt to remove all of the body parts from the site ceased at that point.
This decision, which guaranteed that many WTC victims would never get a decent burial, provoked a wildcat strike by city firefighters, because 343 of the folks who died on 9/11 were members of their department.
This was the first city firefighters strike since 1975 - and it provoked a sympathy strike by the ironworkers at Ground Zero, but the firefighters and ironworkers got no support from either of their unions, or any other building trades or civil service unions, so fast track demolition operations continued at the site.
Despite the highly toxic nature of the debris, only token precautions were taken to protect the health of the 3,000 construction workers, cops, firefighters and federal agents on the site, which lead to serious chronic health problems for hundreds of those workers within a few years.
These workers also had to deal with the extraordinary psychological stress of randomly findin g mangled stinking pieces of burned raw meat that used to be people strewn about the site.
Most of the human remains found after the first week were horribly shredded and mangled bits of tissue - often indistinguishable from the spoiled steaks and pork chops from the World Trade Center cafeteria that were also scattered around the ruins, and with both types of organic matter being equally feasted upon by the rats that infested the site.
Needless to say, many of the tradespeople at the site - not to mention the firefighters and cops - found this quite traumatic and psychologically painful to endure - with those who had lost family in the terrorist attack suffering most of all.
The workers mental health was as well provided for as their physical health - which is to say not at all!
Meanwhile, extensive decontamination and repair operations began on nearby buildings - first priority, the Verizon Building, which provided ph one service to Wall Street financial houses and corporate headquarters.
The collapsed Seven World Trade Center - destroyed ironically enough because it was the site of Mayor Giuliani's emergency bunker, and the flames caused by the debris from one of the kamikaze planes set the bunker's 23,000 gallon emergency generator diesel fuel tank set the tower ablaze, the charred Deutsche Bank Building - set ablaze by the wreckage of the other kamikaze plane - and part of the Borough of Manhattan Community College were abandoned, but everything else was set to be cleaned and fixed.
The cleaning was done by 2,100 laid off World Trade Center janitors and several hundred undocumented immigrant day laborers (the latter group of workers were marched in a group through the Army National Guard checkpoints every day, due to the fact that they didn't have any valid ID).
They had absolutely no safety equipment whatsoever, only handkerchiefs or the occasional 99 cent store dust mask to protect them from the toxic WTC ash.
None of their employers - from multinational cleaning contractor American Building Maintenance down to the fly by night janitorial service sweatshop contractors that employed the undocumented workers - even cared about the predictable consequences of sending untrained workers to do this work.
They should have used specially trained hazardous materials laborers from Laborers local 78.
The problem was, those guys make union scale construction wages and contractors have to give them respirators, moon suits and decontamination chambers - not to mention regular medical monitoring during and after the job, paid for by the boss.
That was just too expensive - so they sent in untrained and unprotected janitors instead!
SEIU local 32bj was perfectly fine with putting 2,100 of it's members at risk - and with scabbing on Laborers local 78 =E 2 32bj's officers had actually negotiated this extraordinarily horrible and lethal sellout deal at the expense of their members!
Meanwhile, work at every jobsite in Manhattan below 59th St had been suspended the day of the raid - and, even after the unions publicly announced that they were demanding that all the sites be opened (as their "patriotic duty") many sites never restarted up after the air raid.
The WTC had contained 15 million square feet of office space - but the Greater New York market had so much vacant space that all of the WTC tenants were able to relocate effortlessly - and the city STILL had a surplus of unrented offices!
Even big flagship tenants like Morgan Stanley, Salomon Smith Barney, JP Morgan and Blue Cross found alternative space for all of their surviving employees.
Even the Commodity Exchange, which needed special trading floors, and the Royal Bank of Nova Scotia, which needed specially equipped high security vaults to house20the Commodity Exchange's vast gold and silver reserves, were able to easily find appropriate facilities.
The economic impact of the bombing - and the 250,000 people who lost their jobs that day - sent the city's economy into a temporary recession that lasted well into 2002, with the construction sector the hardest hit.
New York City also changed mayors during this time.
Giuliani tried a blatant power grab - he planned to cancel the November 2001 elections and reappoint himself to another - unelected - term as mayor.
The financiers who really rule New York City vetoed that move and, because of term limits, Giuliani left office.
Giuliani - who had long been a servant of Wall Street - was replaced by Michael Bloomberg, who WAS Wall Street.
The richest man in the city, and the 500th richest man on the face of the Earth thanks to the $ 5 billion dollar fortune he made leasing Bloomberg Terminal computers to Wall Street financiers, Bloomberg was a plutocrat mayor, and he continued carrying out the financiers agenda at City Hall.
High up on Wall Street and Bloomberg's agenda was rebuilding Ground Zero and repairing the war damage to the Financial District.
The Ground Zero jobsite was completely demoed out down to the bedrock by May 2002 - a record that AMEC, Tully, Turner and Bovis Lend Lease took great pride in, as did the New York City Building Trades Council.
Nobody talked about the 1,800 bodies that ended up being mixed in with the trade waste and interred for eternity at the City's Fresh Kills garbage landfill in Staten Island because of the speed of the job (only 300 intact bodies - and 15,000 pieces that added up to another 700 corpses when reassembled - were re covered before the site became a fast track demolition job).
The only ruins still standing were the incredibly contaminated Deutsche Bank Building and a section of the Borough of Manhattan Community College - those ruins still stand to this very day, only partially demolished.
Ironically enough, an explosion of infighting between the city, the state, New Jersey, the Port Authority, the feds and Larry Silverstein prevented the site from getting rebuilt in a timely fashion - except for the portion of the land that Silverstein owned free and clear, where the new Seven World Trade Center was quickly constructed, atop the ruins of the old Seven World Trade Center.
So all of that rush and haste to clear the site- and the desecration of all those bodies that had been required to demo out the WTC site so fast - had been a total waste of time.
Meanwhile, the commercial side of the industry did pick up with the 2002 recovery - as did the now mostly deunionized residential sector.
Residential - thanks to a scissor effect of rapidly growing home prices and stagnant subminimum construction worker wages - was growing by leaps and bounds.
Young White professionals seeking to live in Manhattan but unable to afford to live downtown were flooding into the HPD financed "affordable" luxury apartments in Harlem, and young college graduates from the Midwest who lived off the trust funds provided by their rich parents were rapidly moving into Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
Both groups happily paid high six figure - and even low seven figure - prices for co-op apartments (and helped price working class people out of those two communities)
There was a similar wave of working class people priced out of Brooklyn moving to the new tract housing developments in Staten Island as well.
There were also residential development hotspots in Lower Manhattan, Southern Brooklyn and Northern Queens - and, with=2 0few exceptions, the workers there were grossly underpaid.
This included many of the union developments as well, where carpenters, tapers, bricklayers and laborers were often paid cash.
Unlike the old days, when cosa nostra had regulated the scale of the graft, it was open season now - and the GC's were upset, because, despite the decade of law enforcement information, they were still having subs that paid scab but billed as if they paid union and pocketed the extra profits, instead of passing it on to the GC's, the developers, the owners and the bankers.
The construction unions continued on the same path of nominally going along with the government publicly while covertly aiding the subcontractors in secretly paying cash to a portion of their membership, and secretly pocketing those profits.
This was only natural - since the leaders of those unions had their social base in the company men and foremen who were steadily employed by those subs (in a business where most workers are casual labor) and therefore were loyal junior partners20of the subs and fought for the subs interests.
The only exception was the Mason Tenders - the only union where the government had succeeded in it's agenda, thanks to the ties between the company men in that trade - the social base of the Mason Tender's leadership, and the GC's.
In other words, the government's grand agenda in putting the New York building trades unions under monitorship had failed.
This did NOT mean that the government stopped - far from it, they stepped up their efforts to force the unions to go along with the financiers and their effort to subordinate the subs and force them to pass along the profits from falling labor costs in the industry.
And there were subs who did just that - especially in residential, and in particular in the scab sector, where very low wages did translate into low prices for the clients.
This was a very important success story for the government - in this vast and growing sector, the feds had, thanks to their breakup of the organized cosa nostra price fixing cartels, forced the subcontractors to pass along the superprofits that they were able to extract thanks to deunionization and subminimum wages.
There was a political price for this - unlike the old construction industry, where a large portion of the workforce lived a privileged lifestyle and almost all workers in the industry earned decent wages, we now had a situation where the majority of the construction workforce lived in deep poverty.
Even the union side had substantial pockets of impoverished members - including some of the company men who worked for cash - with only a small narrow section of tradespeople still living a labor aristocratic lifestyle.
The industry had also had to break the color bar and the sex barrier - the ultimate "man's job" had to accept a token number of women, and the one time White men's club was now overwhelmingly Black, Latino and Asian on the scab side - with much of the non union White workfo rce being recent immigrants from Europe, and close to a third workers of color on the union side - with a large population of European immigrants in that sector as well.
This created the potential for a tremendous amount of militant struggle - the bosses had sacrificed the traditional bonds of race and sex solidarity, and had driven most of the workforce into poverty - and had crushed the social basis for conservatism for a majority of the workforce.
The only ace in the hole the bosses had was a submissive and pro contractor labor leadership, who would never in a million years ever try and take advantage of these new social circumstances to lead any kind of militant worker struggles.
Thanks to the failure of the unions to act decisively, the decay of working conditions and wages continued.
And the scab developers got bolder - with some of the more aggressive ones, like Shaya Boymelgreen and Alex Forkosh, building large residential projects with all scab contractors in the heart of Manhatta n.
Forkosh did an all scab labor project for New York University - Boymelgreen brought the former headquarters of JP Morgan, in the  heart of Wall St, and the former Daily News printing plant in Brooklyn, and renovated both places 100% scab.
The unions held rallies in front of those jobsites - tame, legal rallies, with the Mason Tenders organizers helping the cops corral the workers into protest pens.
But there were other scab projects - large and small - all over Manhattan, areas that had once been all union, from John Bon Jovi's recording studio to 6 budget hotels for the Hampton Inn chain.
And, side by side with the scab jobs were "union" jobs with companies like On Par as subcontractors - firms that were "union" in name only.
Meanwhile, the feds continued their probes - in 2004, they went after Plasterers local 530, the Genovese controlled drywall tapers union, and a group of companies linked to Louis Moscatiello, Sr that paid cash to their tapers on union jobs.
Again, the problem wasn't that the standard of living of tapers had fallen - it was that Moscatiello and the Genoveses had helped the drywall and taping subs secretly underpay their tapers, so the subs could pocket the superprofits themselves, rather than pass the profits on up to the GC's and the developers.
Painters local 1974's NLRB case was pushed forward - with the hope that the board could force the drywall and taping subs to replace under the table substandard local 530 wages with legally low wages from local 1974 - which would force them  to pass the extra profits on up to the GC's and the developers.
The Carpenters Union - the only major union besides the Mason Tenders that did any real organizing - had a couple of active NLRB campaigns - one at Gateway, a White owned scab residential builder out of Yonkers with a largely Black workforce on a large residential jobsite in Harlem, and the other at Colgate, a formerly union scaffold outfit that had fired all of it's union carpenters, laborers and teamsters, broke the unions and replaced those workers with non union Mexican carpenters several years before.
Both the Gateway and Colgate campaigns were typically long drawn out legalistic campaigns that succeeded but failed.
They succeeded in that the Black carpenters at Gateway and the Mexican carpenters at Colgate overwhelmingly voted union.
They failed in that Gateway simply shut down under one name - and a different firm with almost the exact same name ["Gateway Development"] owned by the same guy took over the job - giving them legal license to evade the union.
And Colgate simply committed the usual litany of illegal labor law violations and legal foot dragging that lead to most NLRB victories never leading to signed union contracts.
Of course, at least the Carpenters TRIED - which was more than could be said for the other trade s (in fact, since the other trades basically didn't do any organizing, the Carpenters Union had had to organize laborers, truck drivers, tapers and other non carpenters at both of those companies - cause nobody else was going to do it)
And, alone among the trades, the Carpenters actually picketed scab jobs in Harlem, Williamsburg and the South Shore of Staten Island, the main centers of scab work in the city at that time.
The leadership of the rest of the unions had basically resigned themselves to a steady shrinkage of union work, a smaller and smaller island surrounded by a scab sea.
But the Carpenters Union leadership was absolutely NOT prepared to lead any kind of mass movement of non union tradespeople in Harlem, Williamsburg or the South Shore/
This was in part because that would involve changing the union's racial balance of power by bringing in a whole lot of Mexicans and Blacks.
Also, this was because any kind of large scale class struggle would also trigger a lot of unrest among local men currently in the union, which would destroy all of those special deals and understandings that allowed contractors to pay cash and to use all company man workforces with only the steward actually being from the out of work list.
A mobilized and politically active local man carpenter workforce would probably revolt against all those special deals - and that would hurt the carpentry subs - in particular the outfits in the drywall & ceilings, hirise concrete, office furniture and venetian blind industries.
So even the union that did the most organizing stopped far short of what needed to be done - because it would hurt the bosses in their industries.


Union conditions continued to decay - even at the biggest union jobsite in the country, the AoL Time Warner Center.
The core of the building had been finished - now there was a whole lot of interior work to be done, on the lower retail, office and hotel floors and the upper residential floors.
The commercial work was all done union - with the usual problems with cash on some of the jobs, and some serious safety problems experienced by the carpenters who worked for A & M Wallboard - but union nonetheless.
As for the upper floors - some of the extremely expensive upper floor luxury apartments were renovated by scab residential builders and subs.
They actually used the same loading dock the union contractors did - the scab outfits and their workers entered through the 58th St entrance, the union shops' tradespeople and deliveries came through the 60th St entrance!
And this in a 100% union building, with SEIU 32bj members servicing the office and retail areas, UNITE HERE local 6 members working in the hotel p art, union operators running every freight car and a teamster foreman on the loading dock!
Their was a half day strike by most of the union trades on the site - except for the electricians and the local 530 tapers - who scabbed behind a union picketline.
That forced the building's owner, billionaire developer Steven Ross, to use union labor on his own $ 40 million dollar 4 floor penthouse atop the north tower.
But besides that, practically nothing was done to stop Ross from doing the complex residential interior work with a largely scab workforce in what was supposed to be a 100% union job!
This was only the tip of the iceberg as far as union decay went.
Up in Harlem, scab builders like Artimus decided to make their HPD subsidized luxury housing jobs go double breasted.
They began to use unionized electrical and hirise concrete subs on some of their bigger jobs.
Their were a couple of reasons for this - one, having union carpenters, lathers, cement masons, concrete laborers, operating engineers and electricians on the job made it very difficult for the Carpenters Union Organizing Department to picket these jobs, since they had signatory contractors with union labor on the site.
Two, using union electrical contractors was a whole lot safer - Electricians local 3 has a college level electricians apprentice training program, the best in the nation, and union electricians are far more skilled than their non union counterparts.
Since these luxury buildings had elaborate electrical, datacom, cable TV, telephone and other systems hardwired into the apartments, it made sense to use the absolute best electricians available, who would not only be able to guarantee that there would be no electrical fires or system failures, but that the systems would work right the first time.
As for the hirise concrete - since they came o n the job first, the builders could bill the owners and the developers at union labor prices for their work - and, even after they left, and scab drywall & ceilings, windows, flooring and other contractors came onto the site, the scab builders could bill as if ALL of the subs were union, despite the fact that almost all of them were scab.
In other words, this was a way for the builders to expropriate the superprofits of using mostly scab labor for themselves, rather than letting those excess profits go to the developers, clients and bankers.
Added into the mix was the fact that Electricians local 3 let residential contractors use a mostly apprentice workforce - which enabled them to charge lower prices, and the fact that there were many hirise concrete subs who paid cash to some of their company man carpenters and concrete laborers, the scab builders in Harlem were not even paying full price for union labor on these jobs!
That does not mean that they weren't charging full union prices to the developers, of course!
So, bas ically they had, in a small scale and decentralized way, reproduced the old lumping system of the glory days of the cosa nostra- run Wheel and Concrete Club era - just without having the mafia as the centralized arbiters of the scam.
And, of course, the double breasted operations were only on the big jobs in Harlem - the small jobs were run with low wage all non union crews.
The city's scab subcontractor base was expanding - it was now possible to find scab structural ironwork crews and even scab crane service companies - enabling scab builders in Harlem, Downtown Manhattan, Williamsburg, Downtown Brooklyn and Northern Queens to build steel framed hirises all non union.
Other than sporadic picketing by the Carpenters Union - and, in Downtown Brooklyn, Ironworkers local 361 - little was done to stop this trend.
And no efforts were made to mobilize non union workers on a mass scale to turn these contractors around, because that would involve struggle agains t the bosses - and any workers victory in struggle against scab contractors would endanger the longstanding collaboration between the leaderships of the unions and the union contractors.
This failure to fight had severe consequences for construction workers, union and non union alike.
Despite the fact that a building boom began in 2005, with lots of work in the housing sector - union on the Upper East Side, Upper West Side and Coney Island, scab in Harlem, Williamsburg, Riverdale, the South Bronx, Northern Queens and the South Shore of Staten Island - residential construction wages and working conditions were still in a state of decay.
One dramatic example of this was a series of major scaffold collapses - with 29 deaths and numerous serious injuries.
Most of the city's scaffolds were built by scab contractors - and the remaining union outfits had their labor conditions pulled downwards by the scabification of most of that industry.
One glaring example was the Carpenters Union letting scaffold outfits use area shop stewards, instead of a shop steward at every scaffold job, and, through the request system, the contractors could use all company man crews on every job.
The all company man scaffold crews had nobody to insist on safety standards on the jobs and could be - and were - pushed to work unsafe by the contractors.
And almost all of the brickpointing contractors - the main users of scaffolds in the city - were scab, with only a few union shops in that segment, and of course, those contractors labor conditions were pulled downwards by the dominance of scab subs in that business as well.
As a result there was blood on the sidewalks.
The Carpenters Union's reaction was to lobby for stricter licensing standards for the scaffold industry
Which was a damned sight better than20the Bricklayers, Mason Tenders, Roofers and the SEIU window washers division - who's reaction was dead silence.
But the licensing requirement demand was grossly inadequate.
The licensing requirements did come through - and, with no unions at those scab outfits to enforce the new safety rules on the jobsites, all it did was create a black market for scaffold erector licenses, with corrupt instructors selling licenses to folks who did not receive the training.
And even with all the scaffold safety training in the world, if desperate impoverished non union undocumented workers are pushed to do the job unsafe - and know that they will be fired if they don't - they will work unsafe, just cross their fingers, say a prayer and hope nobody dies.
Meanwhile, in the broader New York City labor world, Transport Workers Union local 100 called a strike at MTA New York City Transit in December 2005.
This was the f irst transit strike in the city since 1980 and by far the biggest strike in the state since 1996.
It might as well have happened on the dark side of the moon as far as the Building Trades Council was concerned - because they made absolutely no efforts to show solidarity with the TWU - even when the media attacked local 100 President Roger Toussaint (the newspapers demanded his arrest - and one radio DJ went on the air and openly called for the assassination of Toussaint!)
The rest of the labor movement didn't do much better - even the other MTA unions only offered rhetorical support and the civil service unions also did next to nothing to aid the transit workers.
Tragically, as has become all too common in modern American strikes, transit workers willingness to fight far exceeded the desire - and, quite frankly, even the ability - of their leaders to lead them into battle.
The transit workers were sent back to work after only 3 days on the line - a defeat snatched from the jaws of victory by20their leadership.
As the building boom accelerated in 2006, so did the safety crisis - and it wasn't just scaffold failures now, but building collapses too. Nothing major - small residential lowrises - but building collapses nonetheless - and collapses that involved fatalities.
There was no effort by the Building Trades Council or the affiliated unions to lead any kind of resistance to these abuses at all - just yet another call for new licensing rules (this time, 10 hour Occupational Safety and Health Administration classes).
All this did was create yet another black market - enabling non union workers to buy 10 hour OSHA cards without taking the full class.
And even for those who took the class, it didn't in any way prevent the number 1 cause of construction safety and health problems - bosses pushing tradespeople to work faster.
In general, most construction safety training exists in20a never never land where the boss isn't pushing the workers to get the job done faster and where working slower to be safe won't get you laid off.
Most safety training assumes that construction hazards are caused by construction workers being reckless and/or stupid - rather than by bosses who's first priority is to get the job done fast, with every other priority secondary at best.
Ground Zero was a perfect example of this - the contractors recklessly exposed construction workers, cops and firefighters to all sorts of toxic substances during the demolition operation.
By 2006, nearly 80 workers had died of Ground Zero related diseases and over 1,000 were so sick they could no longer work.
And that's not including the union apprentice carpenter who fell down an elevator shaft to his death while the contractors were rushing to finish the new Seven World Trade Center .
And, despite all the propaganda about the heroism of the Ground Zero workers that filled the airwaves and the newspapers during the recovery operation, city, state and federal authorities were still trying to avoid paying out any workers comp benefits to the victims.
As for the janitors and day laborers who had cleaned out the buildings around Ground Zero - there were deaths, and many many debilitating illnesses, but they also were being denied compensation.
The construction unions were, at best, passively supportive of workers comp for Ground Zero workers - police and firefighter unions, 9/11 activists and even the occupational safety specialists at Mt Sinai Hospital, were far far more vocal about Ground Zero worker health than the building trades unions.
And, one of the city's most dangerous jobs - the Deutsche Bank demolition job - was right down there in Ground Zero.
Bovis Lend Lease was the GC on=2 0the job - which was to be the future site of a JP Morgan Chase office building once the contaminated burned out wreckage was finally torn down.
They'd hired a newly incorporated demolition contractor, John Galt Inc, which had ties to two shady contractors - Safway Demolition, a cosa nostra connected firm with a horrible safety record and Regional Scaffolding and Hoisting, another cosa nostra linked firm with a history of paying cash to union carpenters.
Galt ran the job in a very slipshod way - inadequate toilets for the workers, failure to decontaminate workers removing asbestos and a long list of other violations big and small, including an inadequate fire safety system.
This led to a jobsite fire that killed two New York City firefighters and another accident where a handtruck fell off the building and severely injured two other firefighters a few days later.
The demo job was finally stopped after the tragedy with the firefighters - which created yet another delay in=2 0the building of the new World Trade Center.
Other than the completion of Seven World Trade Center, the rest of the project was hopelessly stalled. This was in part because of political infighting between the City, the State, the Port Authority and Larry Silverstein, but largely because there simply was no market for all the office space included in the new World Trade Center plan.
The stalling of the World Trade Center project was one of the first signs of the end of the mid 2000's building boom.
The real estate market reached bottom - and a whole lot of those overpriced luxury apartments (many of them built with HPD "affordable housing" funding) were now going to end up going unsold.
Which didn't stop developers from building those apartments, of course - each with the hopes that they would magically sell their units and make back at least SOME of their investment, and it would be the other guy who would get stuck with a building full of unsold units and end up going bankrupt instead of them.
The safety crisis accelerated in 2007, with two major crane collapses on union hirise residential jobs on the Upper East Side, killing a total of 7 operating engineers, a laborer and a member of the general public.
The union's reaction to this was pathetic in the extreme.
New York Building Congress head Louis Colletti spoke for "the industry" - with the unions all but dead silent (even Operating Engineers local 14, who had suffered the bulk of the deaths in the incidents).
The New York City Department of Buildings came out with new regulations - but even with it's newly appointed reform commissioner, Robert LiMandri, they had a limited pool of inspectors and a culture of systematic safety rule violations as a way of life on the jobsites.
The unions and the contractors agreed to a new set of regulations, and more safety classes  but, on the jobsites, production was still priority one and everything else - including the lives of construction workers - was secondary.
The construction unions absolutely refused to take any independent steps to fight safety violations on the jobsites - at best, the safety departments of the Carpenters and Electricians local 3 would call OSHA on the more egregious violations, but no attempt was made to lead worker resistance on the jobsites to unsafe and abusive work practices that put construction workers lives at risk.
In short, the cavalier attitude about the lives and deaths of workers that was the de facto policy on scab jobs was now the de facto policy on union jobs as well, with no meaningful resistance from the unions.
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2007 also  saw a new organization emerge on the construction labor scene, seeking to "advocate for" non union South Asian brickpointers - New York Construction Workers United.
NYCWU was a "workers center" - a social services organization, run by lawyers, social workers and other middle class professionals - which filed lawsuits on behalf of workers who had been cheated out of their wages or otherwise abused by their scab contractor bosses.
New York Construction Workers United was closely associated with the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund and the New York Taxi Workers Alliance (the latter group a workers center active in advocating for cab drivers - another group of workers long ago abandoned by the unions).
Basically, NYCWU was filling the vacuum left by the Bricklayers Union's and the Mason Tenders Union's refusal to organize brickpointers, despite those workers willingness to organize and fight if given the opportunity to do so.
Unfortunately, the NYCWU was run by middle class professionals rather than by brickpointers and, instead of mobilizing strikes and other job actions, their strategy was to file lawsuits against scab contractors.
Considering the facts that many of these workers were undocumented, many were paid in cash off the books and that some of the contractors themselves were off the books enterprises that weren't even incorporated, the strategy had severe flaws.
The biggest problem was, the workers were to be passive plaintiffs in lawsuits, settled behind closed doors by attorneys, rather than actively using their power on the job to shut down production - NEVER a good class struggle strategy.
Beyond that, the NYCWU embarked on this campaign just as the residential sector was crashing - which could have been a great time to call quickie strikes to bring up labor standards by forcing desperate contractors to concede while they were weak, but which was a terrible time to be filing lawsuits against bosses who were on the edge of bankruptcy because of the coll apse of the market.
Sadly, due to the collapse of the economy, the New York Construction Workers United campaign never even had a chance to try their approach to construction worker organizing, flawed as it was.
As the market flattened and the stock market boom that had fueled it came to a sudden and violent halt, construction jobs began to dramatically slow down - with some jobs being discontinued altogether (the first time this had happened in New York City since the 1975 fiscal crisis).
As Wall Street spun even deeper into crisis in 2008, even more jobs stopped - and, when major financial district firms like AIG insurance and Lehman Brothers failed, the construction sector came to a sudden jarring halt.
Office interior construction fell by over 40% as firms cut back on discretionary capital spending.
Several new Manhattan office building jobs simply did not start, or only began very limited foundation work.
Residential work in previously booming areas - Lower Manhattan, Harlem, Williamsburg, the South Shore of Staten Island, also dramatically slowed down.
The unions already had a large pool of unemployed members - particularly local men - and now it was taking longer for them to be sent out to work. Company men and the guys who worked for cash were now losing out on OT and some even were getting laid off as well.
On the scab side, subminimum wage undocumented immigrants who had worked steady 60 hour weeks were now lucky to work 3 days a week and many of the better paid non union workers were also finding themselves jobless as well.
It was the worst crisis to hit New York construction workers since 1975.
Clients, developers, bankers, GCs and subcontractors were united for once in a demand for a wholesale rollback of wages and conditions - a 25% reduction in labor costs, the repeal of the 7 hour day and the abolition of a whole list of union rules.
For many of the subs, these open and legal wage cuts (which they'd have to pass up to the GC's) were parallel to all of the secret wage cuts they had illegally imposed on the jobsites.
The unions - who had already made a lot of these givebacks on NYC School Construction Authority jobsites - were more than willing to impose "shared sacrifice" on their members.
In other words, there was not even a token attempt to resist the giveback demands of the bosses.
Of course, the leaders of the building trades unions did have some distractions to deal with - yet another racketeering case.
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Assemblyman Brian McLaughlin (D - Flushing, Queens) - the head of the Central Labor Council and the Electricians local 3 business agent in charge of the streetlight electrician's J Division, was convicted of a variety of crimes.
Assemblyman McLaughlin's offenses ranged from the appalling to the pathetic - letting streetlight contractors use non union labor on residential subdivision jobs in Staten Island, using streetlight electricians for a variety of personal tasks (ranging from spying on his daughter's dates to cleaning his mansion to driving to Albany to make sure he got marked present at Assembly sessions he didn't bother to attend), having contractors give his three mistresses no show jobs, shaking down electricians who stole "mongo" (scrap metal) from jobsites, making union members buy his wife a Mercedes Benz and stealing from the Electricians little league program.
His conviction marked the first time that the government had investigated labor racketeering in Electricians local 3, a union that had always had a squeaky clean image compared to the rest of the trades.
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The state also forced McLaughlin to become an informant - although his main focus so far has been on corrupt Democratic elected officials rather than labor racketeers.
At the same time the McLaughlin case ended in his conviction, Operating Engineers local 14 was getting investigated for helping well connected but incompetent men get hirise crane operator licenses that they didn't deserve to have.
This probe came in the wake of the NYC Department of Building's investigation into the 2007 crane collapses - and, tragically, it showed that the leaders of local 14 cared more about providing jobs for the incompetent relatives of crane rental firm owners than they did about the safety of their members and other tradespeople.
The leaders of local 14 - and their sister local, Operating Engineers local 15 - had also done nothing to organize the non union crane rental firms that were popping up in the New York market - which made it possible for scab GC's to do hirise jobs without having to use union operators for their cranes, hoists, pile driving rigs and excavators.
Incidentally, during the same years that local 14 officers were helping unqualified White males with relatives in crane rental company management get crane licenses, the same union had gone out of it's way to force Black and Latino males and women of any color who wanted to be crane operators to go through their apprenticeship program.
But, the catch 22 was, once the minorities and women completed the apprenticeship, both locals 14 and 15 went out of their way to prevent these qualified trained crane operators from getting the licenses they'd earned!
Apparently, racism, sexism and patronage were more important that safety!
Which may explain the otherwise puzzling silence of local 14's union officers after the 2007 crane collapses that killed 7 of their members!
In a climate like that, no wonder the construction unions were ready to roll over for the contractors, at the expense of the majority of their members.
In 2009, the contractors got a concession deal - initially limited to 14 hirise jobs in Manhattan - that included deep cuts in labor costs and major work rule givebacks, the most significant of which is the abandonment of the 7 hour day.
Just a few weeks after that deal was made, the District Council of Carpenters and it's largest affiliate, Carpenters local 608, were hit by a federal indictment.
The indictment charged the head of the District Council, several local 608 officers and shop stewards, contractor Finbar O'Neil and Association of Wall-Ceiling and Carpentry Industries head Joseph Oliveri of conspiring to help On Par and 5 other contractors violate their union contracts by - among other things - paying cash.
The international Carpenters Union stepped in, imposed a trusteeship and fired the indicted union officers.
Again, it was the same pattern - the offi cers of a construction union making an under the table deal with a contractor to allow them to secretly underpay their workers, which would enable them to pocket the extra profits from paying low wages, without having to share the loot with the GCs and the developers.
And this betrayal was allegedly carried out for a mere pittance - allegedly less than $ 1 million in cash bribes, plus super bowl tickets and a few beers and sandwiches here and there.
After over two decades of government intervention, this was still going on - and the feds and the state still hadn't figured out how to stop it, because the interests of the narrow privileged layer of company men that remained the social base of the union leaderships in every union but the Mason Tenders were still identical to the interests of the contractors..
The question is, what can construction workers (and, in particular, that huge majority of tradespeople who do not have steady jobs in the business) do?
How can we deal with these betrayals by those who lead the unions tha t supposedly represent us?
And what can the majority of construction workers who have no representation at all do?
One thing must be pointed out, first and foremost.
The interests of the great majority of construction workers are totally opposite to the interests and demands of contractors - GC's and subs alike.
The GC's and the subs may have their differences - and the subs definitely have differences with the owners, developers and bankers - but all of these folks are the enemies of the great majority of construction workers.
There is a narrow privileged layer of foremen, steady employees and relatives of contractors who do have a common interest with the bosses - and for the same reason that they have a common interest of the bosses, they are the enemies of the majority of construction workers as well.
For almost a century, the narrow interest of that tiny elite of privileged construction workers with ties to the bosses have dominated the  unions that claim to represent us - and, along with the gangsters and wiseguys who also represent the interests of the bosses within the  unions - they have twisted the unions against the majority of construction workers.
Government and law enforcement, far from being the defenders of the workers, are in fact acting in the interests of the bankers, real estate developers, owners and GC's and are not in any way acting in the interest of construction workers.
While the government is also the enemy of the subs and the company men that does NOT mean that there is a basis for an alliance with the subs or the privileged layer of tradespeople - because their needs and demands and ours are 180 degrees apart from the needs of the great majority of tradespeople - union and non union.
These trends have become very dramatically visible during the last 30 years of union decay and government domination of the building trades unions.
What little protection the unions offered the majority of tradespeople (and little protection is correct - remember, this is an industry that has NEVER had seniority, or bans against unfair discharge or any of the other union protections that most union members have taken for granted since the 1930's) have now eroded - to the point where the unions - at best - take care of a tiny privileged layer of company men, at the expense of the rest of the members.
The leaders of the construction unions have also isolated themselves from the rest of labor - even when major class battles are being waged (like the 2005 transit workers strike, or the mass layoffs presently facing the autoworkers upstate and in Michigan and Ohio, or the struggles of the striking bakers at Stella D'oro in the Bronx) our unions are almost totally absent from the scene.
This is a microcosm of the general decay that is a critical problem throughout the labor movement today - and it's all the more reason that  here in the New York building trades, the birthplace of American organized labor, we should be in the lead in t rying to solve this problem.
American organized labor is in a death spiral - and New York City construction workers need to stop that spiral here and now!
Unfortunately, it's unlikely that any of our unions - even the ones that have made limited moves to organize - will help us fight to save building trades unionism!
We need to fight to democratize our unions, so they speak for the vast majority - the local men - rather than the privileged company man minority...and we should use every means at our disposal to bring that out - including the monitorships the feds and the State of New York have imposed on our unions to try and break them.
While those regimes were imposed by the courts to crush our unions, they all include token measures to make the unions (at least on paper) more democratic.
A good example of this is the Delegate Body in the District Council of Carpenters - a legislative body that (at least on paper) acts as a check on the powers of the council officers and business agents.
Also, above all, there needs to be a struggle to wage mass strikes to unionize the non union immigrant workers in residential construction.
Yes, we are in an economic depression now and yes many non union immigrants are living in fear of deportation as well as struggling with joblessness.
But the greatest struggles ever waged in our industry - the great class battles of the 1930's - were carried out in a depression far worse than this one.
Another lesson we can learn from the Great Depression is that we as construction workers have to link up with other sections of the unionized working class.
In particular, we need to link up with the workers in the civil service unions 9 3 the largest unions in the city - and we need to link up with our brothers and sisters in the SEIU and UNITE HERE - the workers who service the buildings we put up, a group that shares a common enemy with us - the real estate developers.
Also, New York City is a city of tenants - 80% of New Yorkers live in rental apartments.
This includes the great majority of the New York City working class, a huge section of New York's middle class professionals and small business owners and even some very wealthy folks as well.
But even many of the city's small minority of homeowners live in co-ops or condo apartments, most of which are controlled by the developers directly or indirectly.
Also, most of New York's small businesses, many of it's medium size businesses, the offices of most of the city's independe nt professionals and almost all of the factories left in the city are in rented space.
Those businesspeople and professionals are preyed on by the same landlords who oppress the city's tenants.
The real estate sharks who are behind the attacks on construction workers are the enemies of these people too, and if we wage a united struggle with the tenants to fight our common real estate developer enemies, we will put ourselves in a much stronger position to fight our own battles on the jobsites.
That potential power is huge - 2 million households in private rental apartments, 150,000 families in public housing, 100,000 unionized building service workers (and an equal number of non union residential supers and porters), 25,000 union hotel workers, 100,000 union construction workers and 100,000 non union tradespeople could form a mighty army against the real estate interests and the rest of the bosses in our industry.
The one thing we need to make that happen is the one thing we don't have - an organized leadership among the local men on the union side and the immigrant workers on the non union side that's willing and able to carry out a fight.
The union leaderships certainly are not willing to fight (except for the company men) and the middle class professionals who run the day labor centers and the immigrant rights groups aren't willing to fight either (because it would put their corporate grant funding at risk of being cut off).
But somebody needs to step up - sooner rather than later - or we're going to be in very big trouble!
If we don't begin to fight back as soon as possible - we will remain on a continuing death spiral until the bosses drive us down to poverty so they can keep enriching themselves at our expense.
-         commentary by GREGORY A. BUTLER, LOCAL 608 CARPENTER
            Originally published on Sunday, September 20, 2009