• Welcome to Community Labor News Forum. Please login or sign up.
November 28, 2020, 01:58:23 pm


If you are a member of the original vbulletin forum and wish to post with your former username you'll need to Reset your password  If you need help remembering your username or the email address you used to register, please feel free to contact Tony using the CLNEWS Contact Form

TWO BIG ELECTION VICTORIES FOR NY CARPENTERS is the union on the road to a comeback?

Started by GREGORYABUTLER, April 02, 2012, 04:32:19 am

Previous topic - Next topic

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.



The New York City District Council of Carpenters and its 15,000 members had two major election victories in the last week of March 2012.

One was the defeat of union contracts that would have gutted the unions Out of Work List job referral system; the other was the defeat of an attempt by the Painters Union to raid the Carpenters Union's dockbuilder jurisdiction.

On the contracts, the pacts with the Building Contractors Association, the Association of Wall, Ceiling and Carpentry Industries, the Cement League and the Greater New York Floor Coverers Association would've let contractors to avoid hiring any union carpenters from the union other than one shop steward per jobsite.

About two thirds of the union's membership (the "local men" as they are known) work off of the Out of Work List, including a disproportionate number of the union's apprentices, African Americans, West Indians, Latinos, women and older carpenters.

Without that list, they'd have to struggle to find jobs directly from contractors, in competition with the union's much smaller number of "company men" (carpenters who have full time jobs) who are disproportionately White and male and some of whom are related to contractors by family, marriage or ethnic origin.

In the 1990s, the leadership of the District Council at that time (since ousted by federal court action with many of the officers at the time also convicted of racketeering charges and jailed) agreed to a similar agreement (then known as "the request system").

The request system made it much harder for local men to get jobs, led to increased discrimination against third and fourth year apprentices, African Americans, West Indians, Latinos, women, older carpenters and also led to a situation where, particularly in residential drywall and hirise concrete jobs, company man carpenters had to "work for cash" (get paid off the books for less than union pay and no benefits) to get jobs.

Considering the longstanding practice, dating back to the 1970s, of a section of union carpentry contractors, often with organized crime ties, abusing the union's job referral system to force a portion of their workforce to work for less than union scale and to discriminate against those who refuse to work off the books, there's no reason to think that similar labor abuses wouldn't materialize under full mobility.

This so called "full mobility" agreement was voted down by a two thirds majority, with only a small number of scaffold carpenters (a group who are disproportionately company men) voting for a full mobility agreement with the Hoisting Trade Association that only affects their specialty.

This sends the agreements - and 11 other agreements with other employers associations - back to the negotiating table where, hopefully, they will drop the demand to eliminate our hiring hall system.

The same week, an attempt by the Painters Union to take over representation for the Carpenters Union's 1,000 New York, Long Island and New Jersey dockbuilders (heavy construction workers who do pile diving, pier, bridge, waterfront and foundation work) also went down to defeat.

In a shamelessly opportunist bid to take advantage of disarray and member disenchantment in the New York City District Council of Carpenters, and widespread conflict on a North America-wide basis between Carpenters Union members and the union's controversial general president, Douglas J. "Cash" McCarron,  the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades chartered a puppet union called the "Amalgamated Carpenters".

The Amalgamated's New York City affiliate was run out of the New Jersey law offices of an attorney with a long history of representing members of the Genovese cosa nostra crime family and many of the officers of the bogus union had been ousted from posts in the District Council of Carpenters for misconduct and/or organized crime connections.

The Amalgamated targeted the dockbuilders first because many members of that craft were upset that their local, Dockbuilders local 1456, had recently been merged with another heavy construction carpenters local, Timbermens local 1536 (representing workers who do heavy timber work on sewer and foundation jobs and the carpenters who build and dismantle scaffolds and temporary jobsite elevators) into the newly chartered local 1556.

To the contractors, the Painters Union offered wages that are up to 30% lower than the current union dockbuilder scale, no pension fund contributions and the abolition of the union job referral system.

Considering the deep concessions the Painters Union granted to the Association of Master Painters and Decorators in the current union contract (some painters took a 60% cut in wages and benefits) there was no doubt that they were serious in inflicting these deep cuts on dockbuilders working for heavy and highway contractors affiliated to the Associated General Contractors.

However, despite an intense almost yearlong campaign, which included hoodwinking Painters Union members into picketing Carpenters local 1556 meetings, the 1,000 dockbuilders finally spoke in an NLRB representation election.

Eight hundred and nineteen dockbuilders voted - 361 for the District Council of Carpenters, 186 for the Painters Union-controlled Amalgamated Carpenters, 7 for no union at all and 265 ballots were contested and, as of this writing, have not been counted.

While the 265 contested ballots exceed the Carpenters Union's 175 vote margin of victory, the vote still sent a strong message to the Painters Union, and may cause them to reconsider further raids on the Carpenters Union, both in New York City and in other parts of the country.

The defeat of full mobility and the victory over the Painters Union's raid probably wouldn't have happened without the recent election of reform Executive Secretary Treasurer Mike Bilello.

His administration, elected at the tail end of a trusteeship by the District Council's parent union and still under the supervision of a 19 year long federal court monitorship, is the first union administration since 1916 that isn't in some way tied to organized crime.

Bilello, a carpenter for 37 years, is quite the contrast to the rogue's gallery that preceded him.

Of the last 5 leaders of the New York District Council of Carpenters prior to Bilello, Teddy Maritas is presumed to have been killed in a mob hit, Big John O'Connor narrowly survived a mob hit with four gunshot wounds to the butt, Paschal McGuinness was forced out of office by the federal racketeering probe that led to the present monitorship, Fred Devine served a long prison sentence and Mike Forde is still in federal prison and will be for the next 8 years.

Quite a crew.

The years of racketeer domination took their toll.

At its peak in the 1970s, the District Council had 40,000 members and its members did pretty much all of the carpentry work on every structure built in the city, from bodega to hirise.

Starting in the late 1970s, residential construction went scab first, with city subsidized housing renovation work the first to be deunionized.

These days, there are still about 40,000 carpenters working in the city - but only 15,000 are union and a large chunk of the non union carpenters work off the books for less than minimum wage.

During those years, much of the rest of the NYC building trades went into decline as well, falling from nearly all of the city's then 240,000 tradespeople being union 40 years ago to barely 100,000 of NYC's 200,000 construction workers being union these days - and about 50,000 of the city's 100,000 non union workers being paid subminimum wages off the books.

Racketeer domination of the city's construction union movement was a big part of why the city's real estate developers, contractors and the city government were able to get away with that kind of mass deunionization without any significant resistance.

Racketeering also gave the federal government, the State of New York and the New York County District Attorney's Office an excuse to extensively involve themselves in the internal affairs of many New York area construction unions.

On the one hand, that government intervention freed us from almost a century of gangster unionism, which was, indisputably, was a victory for construction workers in this city.

However, it also put strong limits on the freedom of action of building trades unions, not to mention imposing a huge financial burden on the treasuries of our unions, which have to pay for the monitors and investigators appointed by the courts.

In any case, with the defeat of full mobility and the NLRB election victory over the Painters Union, the Bilello administration has won two major defensive victories for union carpenters.

This would be a good time to go on the offensive, take on the corrupt contractors who have abused the system for so long and to organize the great mass of non union carpenters who do the majority of carpentry work in this city.

We're on the verge of another building boom in New York, and that's always a good time for craft unions to fight to expand the unionized segment of the market and improve conditions in both union and scab sectors of our industry.

Let's see what the Bilello administration is prepared to do.

-   commentary by GREGORY A. BUTLER, LOCAL 157 CARPENTER
               Originally published on Monday, April 2, 2012
               © 2012 Gregory A. Butler, all rights reserved.